Each time the Golden State Warriors attempted a 3-pointer Sunday, there was a collective hush at TD Garden, an anticipation, a crowd almost resigned to a swish. Even when the Celtics raced to a 26-point lead, there was a nervousness because the rally was inevitable.
There may be no more trustworthy player in the NBA than Stephen Curry. He is Allstate. He is as dependable as midnight road construction on I-93, his 3-pointer as reliable as chilly mornings in the Bay Area. So, Golden State’s stirring comeback for a 106-101 victory really came as no surprise.
Curry orchestrated the run with brilliance, including a long lead pass to Klay Thompson in the fourth quarter, moments before an eight-second call would have resulted in a turnover. The Warriors outscored the Celtics, 57-36, in the second half, holding Boston to 30 percent shooting and defending so well that not even Isaiah Thomas had a remedy.
Draymond Green said he told his teammates to let him defend Thomas on drives and instructed them not to help. Curry, meanwhile, scored 18 points after halftime on just eight shots. The Warriors’ free-wheeling offensive ways are still present, but a defensive mind-set and patience has been added. Curry ran the offense to perfection in the last few minutes, finding his teammates for layups when the Celtics shifted their attention solely to the threat of Curry’s outside shooting.
“What he does skill-wise is just shocking,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Just the ability to handle the ball, shoot it, get in the paint, and then of course the poise, the leadership that he shows. That was the thing that made me the most happy, under duress on the road. We hardly turned it over in the second half [three times]. We just did a good job of executing under pressure.”
The Warriors improved to a league-best 46-11 as they attempt to claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in what is expected to be a treacherous postseason on the left coast.
Yet there are doubts as to whether a perimeter-oriented team can win the NBA title. Curry and Thompson are stellar shooters, but what perhaps makes Golden State special is its supporting cast. Green can defend all five positions. Harrison Barnes scored a quiet 17 points but hurt the Celtics with key offensive rebounds in the second half. And Andre Iguodala, two years ago considered a premium free agent signing, is now making plays off the bench without a complaint.
The Warriors set a blueprint for teams such as the Celtics. They drafted well — Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green — and made astute trades and a couple of high-priced free agent signings to secure a deep roster. On Sunday, talented big men Andrew Bogut, David Lee, and Marreese Speights did not play in the fourth quarter, yet the Warriors outscored the Celtics, 31-15.
“We’ve been a resilient team all year, when it comes to dealing with losses and coming back,” said Curry. “It was a hard-fought win and I can’t really explain it. We tried to do whatever we could to give ourselves a chance in the second half.”
Kerr is a first-year coach, although he has experienced winning titles as a player, so him leading the Warriors to the next level following Mark Jackson is really no shock. But his relationship with Curry, who at first objected to Jackson’s abrupt firing, has blossomed to one cemented in trust.
“I stay on Steph, and the beauty of Steph is he allows me to coach him,” Kerr said. “He doesn’t take it personally. I have incredible trust in him and I’m still trying to help him get better. He understands that dynamic and he’s been phenomenal. He’s an MVP candidate. He’s been terrific.”
These Warriors have been together for a couple of years. They lost in the Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio two years ago, and were beaten by the Clippers in a brutal seven-game first-round series last season. Every one of their core players — besides Green — is under contract for next season. Green, who has developed into one of the league’s more versatile small forwards, is a restricted free agent, potentially a target of the Celtics.
The fact that his future is cloudy and the NBA is a business isn’t lost on the former Michigan State standout. He is cherishing these times and these victories.
“I’ve said it multiple times this year, we know how good we are,” Green said. “We’re having so much fun. It’s a fun group to be around. It’s easy to capitalize on this, when you enjoy being around the people you’re around every day. This is a special group, a special bond, so let’s make the best of it, because this team will probably never be together again.
“That’s just the nature of this business. One addition, one subtraction, and the team isn’t together no more. So take advantage of it while you’ve got it because I’m sure this team will never be together again. It’s a fun time. One of the funnest times of my life. Live in the moment.”