SAN FRANCISCO — The Celtics have not been perfect during their long winning streak, and coach Brad Stevens pointed that fact out on Friday morning, before his team faced the injury-depleted Warriors.
They were not especially crisp in this game, either, but they once again found a way to win anyway, 105-100, using a late 11-0 run to finish off Golden State and grab their 10th win in a row.
Jayson Tatum had 24 points to lead the Celtics and Kemba Walker added 20, but the two players combined to make just 14 of 42 shots.
The Celtics led 92-88 before Golden State got a three-point play by Eric Paschall and a putback by former BC star Ky Bowman to ignite a 9-0 run that made it 97-92. But the Celtics responded. After pulling within 97-96, a review determined that the Warriors had incorrectly been granted possession after the ball was ruled out of bounds.
The play resulted in a jump ball, and Tatum swooped in after the tip and soared in for a dunk. He then added a short jumper to stretch the lead to three, and Golden State could pull no closer.
Observations and notes from the night:
■ On that key late jump ball, Willie Cauley-Stein was matched up against Daniel Theis. Cauley-Stein actually won the jump ball easily, but Tatum had received a tip from teammate Marcus Smart before the play.
“Smart told me the whole time, like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to tip it back. Shoot the lane,’” Tatum recalled. “I’m like, ‘No.’ He’s like, ‘Listen to me. Listen to me.’ I’m like, ‘All right, yo.’ And I listened to him, and it worked.”
Afterward, Smart playfully emphasized to Tatum why it is important to listen to him in these situations.
■ It was an emotional night for Celtics forward Jaylen Brown. On Nov. 15, 2017, Brown’s best friend Trevin Steede died by suicide, so Friday marked the second anniversary of his death. Brown honored Steede by writing on his game sneakers: “RIP TLS” and “Energy is 4ever.” Then he scored 22 points, which was also Steede’s jersey number and his age when he died. “I had all the confidence in the world today,” Brown said.
■ With the Warriors trailing 76-71 at the end of the third quarter, the public-address announcer, with some pizzazz, said: “We’ve got a close one!” That’s probably not something that was said in similar situations during Golden State’s run of dominance. But right now Golden State will take what it can get. At 2-11, the Warriors have the worst record in the NBA.
■ Stevens has made it clear recently that he hasn’t been thrilled with the play in some of the recent wins. The guess here is that when a loss does come, he won’t think it’s the worst thing in the world for this young group, so he can remind them that there are still flaws to correct.
“This is a hard stretch coming up and we have to just keep getting better,” Stevens said. “We have a lot of things that we have to clean up, especially when we’re not full. That’s part of it.
■ The first quarter wasn’t very pretty for the Celtics, and the low point came with Boston trailing 16-8. Stevens called a timeout so his team could regroup, and then it came back onto the court and nearly had a shot-clock violation, as an awkward Walker three-point try was an airball.
■ Walker and Tatum combined to go 0 for 8 in the opening quarter, as the Warriors stretched their lead to as many as 15 points. But Tatum started to find a groove in the second, when he was 5 for 8 and scored 12 of his 17 first-half points.
■ Tatum vowed before the season that he would attack the basket more frequently and look to draw contact so he can collect easy points at the free throw line. That plan hasn’t come to fruition just yet. Entering Friday, Tatum was averaging 4.7 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions, slightly below his career average of 4.9. But perhaps Friday was a promising hint of what’s to come. The forward took seven first-half free throws, a result of strong drives to the basket.
Still, he was mostly frustrated by his inability to finish at the rim when he gets there.
“I am terrible on layups [right now],” Tatum said. “I hope it’s just an early season rough start, but I have to keep attacking, play off two feet more, just dunk it.”
■ During his eight seasons with the Hornets, Kemba Walker reached the playoffs just twice and did not win a series either time. He seems to genuinely be enjoying this early surge as a Celtic. “I’ve never won this many games in a row,” he said.
“I’ve never had a start like this at this level. I’m just liking the way I’m feeling after the game. Like, I just feel good. That’s all I’m thinking about. I could care less about the streak. Just the feeling of winning, it feels good.”
■ It feels like the result of Carsen Edwards’ first shot of each game can be indicative of how the rest of his night will play out. On Friday his pull-up in the lane was not close to going in, then he missed an open corner 3-pointer and ultimately finished 0 for 4.
■ On Friday morning Stevens praised Robert Williams’ improved passing, and on Friday night Williams gave an example, as he threaded a perfect pass from the top of the key to Semi Ojeleye for a first-quarter layup.
■ The Celtics’ second-quarter comeback was gradual, and the 12-2 run was sparked by a Marcus Smart 3-pointer. There was a time when Smart’s strong shooting nights seemed unusual, but those times appear to be over. Smart was 5 for 9 from beyond the arc while the rest of the Celtics were 8 for 24.
■ It wasn’t a good sign for the Warriors that they held Walker scoreless for the first 21 minutes of the game but could not hold onto their lead. Walker finally hit a 3 and then added three free throws with just under three minutes left, pushing Boston in front, 50-47.
■ And props to Walker for firing up a three-quarters-court heave before the halftime buzzer. Players today almost always pass up those tries so they don’t dent their shooting percentages, but those shots are fun.
■ The Celtics have been dangerous this year because they have so many players who can catch fire at a given time. In the third quarter, it was Brown’s turn. Brown has been pretty bad from beyond the arc this season, entering Friday just 7 for 26. But he made three in a row during his 13-point third quarter.
■ The Chase Center, Golden State’s sparking new $1.4 billion arena, is quite impressive. My personal favorite touch: digital shot charts for both teams that hang high in the rafters for all the fans to see.