Boston’s league-leading winning percentage meant nothing once Golden State decides to ascend to a higher plane of basketball nirvana. Golden State’s geezers might sprint out the gates as quickly as they did in year’s past, but when they need to hit the thrusters, they still have the energy to tap into a higher gear than any other team can reach. In the third of this season, Boston has been anointed as the front runner. Those judgments are understandable.
Through a third of the season Golden State is The Association’s second-worst turnovers producer, second in fouls committed and last in fouls drawn. Conversely, Boston’s offensive rating would still be the highest in league history if the season ended today, their assist-turnover ratio is the NBA’s second-best and, prior to Saturday Night, Jayson Tatum was in contention for the regular season MVP award. However, in Golden State’s 123-107 throttling of Boston, the defending champs proved their input will be paramount to 2023’s title chase.
The Warriors are the gifted STEM students who skip homework assignments, sleep through class after partying the night before, then show up for the exam and not only ace it, but finish first. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ pre-test jitters erased any advantages they thought they’d developed this season.
In Saturday’s potential NBA Finals matchup preview, the Warriors ran pretzels around the Celtics. In the final seconds of the first quarter, when Steph Curry released a 30-foot triple with an immaculate arc, then turned and ran downcourt before the ball even dropped through the net, you knew it was going to be a long day. But few watching could have anticipated a 16-point wipeout was in the works.
Focus has always been one of Golden State’s kryptonites. The regular season can be a slog. Clocking in during the late fall or early winter is tough when the NBA playoffs are a few seasons away. This wandering focus is partially why they have a tendency to lose, occasionally, in the most vexing ways possible. Over the years, Steve Kerr’s most vital role has been serving as sideline Ritalin when concentration begins to waver.
Three nights ago, the short-handed Warriors played without Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins and led by four points in the final 10 seconds. Lackadaisical defense and turnovers resulted in a furious Utah Jazz comeback victory. Last season, they were the NBA’s most volatile team in the fourth quarter as they surrendered massive leads against inferior opponents. Once the playoffs in April swung around though, Golden State buckled down.
Boston was missing the ageless Al Horford and their defensive anchor Robert Williams, who had missed the first few months of the regular season following offseason left knee surgery. Golden State was without its defensive Tatum antidote, Andrew Wiggins.
Instead, Klay Thompson was tasked with guarding Tatum. Not only did Thompson put those concerns about his early season struggles to bed, but he and Jonathan Kuminga pulled the blackout curtains down on Tatum, frustrating him all night. Thompson set the tone in the first minute of regulation by catching up to a cutting Tatum and pinning his layup against the backboard. Along with Kuminga, they limited Tatum to 18 points on a season-high 15 misses and 28.5 percent field goal shooting.
“I cherish being able to move out there on defense and compete more than I ever have before,” Thompson said in his postgame presser about defending Tatum. “So, when you face the best, your game usually reflects that, and you try to rise to the level of competition.”
Steph Curry poured in 32 points on 6-of-11 shooting behind the arc and distributed seven assists to bolster his own MVP case. It’s telling that Curry was relegated to afterthought on an excellent shooting day. Draymond Green even hit double-digit scoring totals for the first time in nine days. During ESPN’s postgame coverage, Green cut a WWE promo detailing why Golden State’s championship belt wasn’t going anywhere next June.
In the raucous confines of Chase Center, Golden State is an NBA-best 12-2. We’ll learn more context about Golden State’s readiness when they hit the road to face Boston at TD Garden in a month. By then, Williams should be acclimated back into the Celtics lineup and Golden State will be well above .500 barring any unexpected catastrophes. Their upcoming nine-day road trip through Milwaukee, Indiana, Philadelphia, Toronto, New York, and Brooklyn is the toughest crucible they’ll endure in this young season. However, acing Saturday’s exam bodes well for them.
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