How do you salvage a road trip that seems to have broken down along the Pacific Coast Highway?
You beat the best team in the NBA.
It’s not just that the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, it’s how they beat them: with stifling defense down the stretch.
In what some might call an ugly game, the Celtics would call it a work of art. Bricks on top of bricks by the “Splash Brothers feat.Draymond Green” almost had a new section built in Oracle Arena by the end of things. The three combined to go 5-for-23 from 3-point range.
In the fourth quarter, the Celtics’ defense got so tight that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson couldn’t even get shots off.
The two combined for just one, sad lonely point on 0-for-4 shooting, one assist, and two turnovers.
Those numbers contributed to a 12-point fourth quarter for the Warriors, and a season-low 86 points. It snapped a 56-game home streak of 100-plus points for the Warriors, too.
If you haven’t realized it just yet, strong defense is how the Celtics are going to beat good teams – not by getting into shootouts.
On March2, the game before the C’s hit the road -they beat the Eastern Conference favoriteCleveland Cavaliers, holding them to 99 points.
We’ve gone over how the team relies too heavily on Isaiah Thomas on the offensive end. It doesn’t appear like that’s going to change this season, either. But one way the Celtics can make up for that is with something the Red Sox of 2010 would call “point prevention.”
What players like Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder may lack from an offensive standpoint consistently, they can more than make up for on the defensive end, limiting opposing offenses and turning defense into transition offense.
And we’re seeing that once again at an elite level from Bradley, who is healthy after missing 22 games with an Achilles injury, as well as the recent loss to the Suns with a sore hamstring.
In the big wins over the Cavaliers and Warriors, Bradley’s offensive numbers won’t stand out – 11 points and 12 points, respectively – but it was his on-ball defense on superstars like Kyrie Irving and Curry at points in the game that made a major impact on the way things went down the stretch.
Ultimately, the Celtics will need the occasional “big game” from a role player or two to go with the usual offensive production. Kelly Olynyk’s 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists (and whopping plus-29) against the Warriors qualifies as that.
But with a team-wide defensive effort like the one in Golden State, the Celtics will find themselves going deeper and deeper into the playoffs – where they’ll meet teams they now know they can beat.