3/8 Game Preview: Celtics at Warriors
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two conference contenders suddenly engulfed in question marks meet up Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics continue a Western swing against the Golden State Warriors.
The Celtics (40-24) moved within three games of the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they beat Cleveland 103-99 a week ago.
But they have lost two straight after beginning a five-game Western swing with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, and now they find themselves fighting to hold onto the No. 2 seed in the East over Washington and Toronto.
The Celtics were without Al Horford (sprained elbow) in their losses to Phoenix and the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday and Monday, but he is expected back for the showdown with the Western Conference's top team, Golden State.
The Warriors (52-11), meanwhile, won two straight to conclude what had been a troublesome Eastern swing. But like the Celtics, they now find themselves looking over their shoulder at a hot San Antonio team that is closing in on the West's top spot.
Golden State went 3-2 on the trip without Kevin Durant (sprained knee), and the Warriors will almost surely be without their leading scorer the rest of the month. They still have two games remaining against the Spurs -- both in San Antonio -- in March.
Boston's leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas, is healthy, but certainly not happy. He was critical of coach Brad Stevens' substitution pattern in the second half of Monday's loss to the Clippers, especially a stretch when a 69-63 lead turned into an 84-76 deficit while Thomas was on the bench.
"We have to figure it out," a calmer Thomas told reporters shortly after criticizing his coach. "We will. We can't panic, but (that loss) hurt. It hurt me, I know that."
The Celtics have reason to believe they can turn things around in Oakland. After all, on their last visit, they snapped Golden State's 54-game home winning streak last April.
"We could go on a five-game winning streak starting next game," Thomas optimistically noted. "You never know. That's how fast things can change."
Thomas will match up Wednesday with Warriors standout Stephen Curry, who struggled on the just completed trip. A 46.3-percent shooter for the season (39.9 percent on 3-pointers), Curry went just 45 for 114 overall (39.5 percent) and 15 for 59 on threes (25.4 percent) on the trip during which the Warriors struggled to shake even the likes of Philadelphia and New York.
The Warriors were able to overcome 7-for-20 shooting (2 for 10 on threes) by Curry when they won 104-88 in Boston in November. But they had Durant hitting 10 of his 13 shots and contributing 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to that win.
"We're just trying to hold it down for KD until he gets back," Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala said after contributing 24 points to Monday's trip-closing win at Atlanta. "With the weapons we have, even with a guy down, we're still capable of doing some good things."