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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics, despite being severely shorthanded, took the best team in the NBA down to the wire Friday night, fighting their way back from a 20-point deficit against the Golden State Warriors before falling 111-107 at TD Garden.
The first half was a defensive struggle for Boston, as it allowed a season-high 68 points before the break while being out-hustled for loose balls and out-muscled for offensive rebounds. However, the C’s flipped a switch emerging from halftime, as they upped their physicality and outscored the Warriors 53-43 in the second half, including a 27-14 advantage in the third quarter, while creating some positive momentum that they hope to build upon.
Boston entered the night short five players, including key rotation pieces in Al Horford (Health & Safety Protocols), Dennis Schroder (illness, non-COVID), and Grant Williams (Health & Safety Protocols). Romeo Langford also had to leave the game in the first half after taking an elbow to the head.
However, the Celtics managed to fill all of the gaps with some strong efforts from Jayson Tatum (27 points, eight rebounds, six assists), Jaylen Brown (20 points, nine rebounds), Marcus Smart (19 points, six rebounds, eight assists), Josh Richardson (15 points) and Aaron Nesmith (11 points).
The C’s had difficulty containing the Warriors (24-5) early on, as Steph Curry put up 16 points in the first quarter on 5-of-7 shooting. But they found an answer to the recently-crowned 3-point king, limiting him to 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the second quarter-on.
When Boston went into halftime, head coach Ime Udoka showed the team a handful of clips that showed them being out-hustled, and that was enough to wake the team up heading into the second half. After allowing nine offensive rebounds for 14 second-chance points in the first half, the C’s allowed just three for five in the second half, as they upped their physicality and made Golden State fight for every loose ball.
“Loved the fight and effort overall,” Udoka said after the game. “Shorthanded or not, we got capable guys out there and we felt we defended at the proper level in the second half – a 43 point half with a 14 point third quarter. That's big-time defense, but we need to bring that from the get-go.”
Marcus Smart took Udoka’s halftime film session to heart, as he was irked by the lack of hustle in the first half. He turned it up a notch and was diving all over the floor for loose balls in the second half, nearly willing the Celtics to a win.
“I feel like that starts with me and my pride on that end, and being physical and bringing effort every minute that I'm on the court,” Smart said of picking up the defensive intensity. “I just wanted to keep us going. Do everything in my power to try to motivate the guys and going back to where we needed to be."
The C’s stormed back and went ahead by two points on the first possession of the fourth quarter, but their lead went away as quickly as it had arrived, as Golden State soon went back on top and stayed in front all the way to the final buzzer.
Their troublesome first half came back to bite them in the end, but the fact that they were able to put up such a fight while being without six players for most of the game was a positive takeaway for the group.
“We had a chance, we gave ourselves a chance with the group we had available,” said Tatum. “And especially that second half, the way we played, it felt good.”
Boston will look to carry that good feeling into Saturday night when they host the New York Knicks in the second game of a back-to-back.