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Celtics Keep Warriors at Bay in Battle of NBA’s Top Defenses

Taylor Snow
Team Reporter

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The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors have been neck-and-neck atop the NBA’s defensive rankings throughout the second half of the season. But when it came to facing off against each other Wednesday night, their battle was anything but neck-and-neck, as Boston’s top-ranked defense trounced Golden State’s second-ranked squad in a 110-88 win at Chase Center.

The C’s set the tone as the more physical team out of the gate, holding the Warriors to 17 points in the opening frame. They were even better in the second quarter, limiting Golden State to just 15 points and holding them to a season-low, first-half total of 32 points on 29.3 percent shooting from the field while establishing a 16-point advantage.

Boston’s only slipup was in the third quarter when it allowed 37 points, but it bounced right back in the fourth with a 19-point defensive effort before winning its first of four games out West.

“You obviously look at the results, 17, 15, 19 in the first, second, and fourth quarter, so other than that third quarter, I felt our physicality was great,” C’s head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “Any time we can impose that on guys from the start, we wanted to do that and start the road trip off right.”

Boston did an excellent job in limiting Golden State’s Splash Brothers, holding Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined 21 points on 9-of-28 shooting. Thompson was one of only two Warriors players, along with Jordan Poole, to reach double figures in the scoring department.

“All night we were physical, from 1 to 15,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged 26 points, tying Jayson Tatum's team-high mark. “We were into guys, trying to ride them out, not letting them get space, not letting them feel comfortable, and that’s what we want to do. We want to be the aggressor, and I think we did that tonight.”

Boston wanted to come out extra aggressive after suffering a disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks in its previous outing Sunday afternoon, which had been decided by one possession. The C’s felt that they let that game slip away after leading in the fourth quarter. And so when Golden State went on a late run Wednesday night, Boston buckled down to avoid a similar fate.

“It just shows the growth that we've been making and continue to make and it's just what it is,” said Marcus Smart, who logged 20 points and a game-high eight assists in the bounce-back effort. “We all had a bad taste in our mouth after that game because we didn't think we played up to par with our potential and we let one slip … So to come out and play the defense that we did and have been playing is something that shows us the growth that we've been making.”

The Celtics have done a tremendous job of bouncing back from losses ever since the end of December. After going through five separate multi-game losing streaks through the first two months of the season, Boston hasn’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 19-21.

And considering how it bounced back against a team like Golden State – which owned the second-best record in the league entering Wednesday night – made it all the more impressive.

“It shows that we're going up in the right direction and can compete with any team out there on any given night,” Smart said of the quality win. “We have the talent and we have the guys, we have the potential, we have the desire too, the heart and the work ethic. So that's just how we feel and I'm sure we're not the only team that feels that way. Our confidence is really high, rightfully so. Especially the way we started the year and where we're at now.”

Where they are at now is in a position where they can definitively call themselves the best defense in the NBA. Golden State held that crown for the majority of the season, but Boston has dominated on that end of the floor of late, just as it did Wednesday night.