Saturday, April 20 2024
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The Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics entered Saturday’s primetime matchup with the league’s highest win totals over the last month. The Warriors were 12-3 since Feb. 1. Boston was 10-1. 

There was, particularly given the context of Golden State’s 2022 title-clinching win on Boston’s home floor and all the “statement” talk that comes with that history, some temptation to bill this as a heavyweight bout between two top-flight contenders. 

It wasn’t. 

Rather, it took on the look of a tune-up fight, and a historically lopsided one at that — a 140-88 beating by a Boston team that has its sights on a much higher prize than an early March victory over a Play-In Tournament team. Like Stephen Curry said afterward of the whole Boston-still-has-something-to-prove-to-Golden-State sentiment, “that narrative’s gotten old.”

Indeed, 2022 was a long time ago. There are levels in 2024, and the Warriors’ recent surge notwithstanding, Boston is on a significantly higher one. Brown and Jayson Tatum by themselves nearly doubled the scoring output of Golden State’s entire starting lineup (56-33). 

The 52-point shellacking is the third largest margin of victory in franchise history. Boston’s 44-point halftime lead goes down as its largest ever. With a 51-point win over Indiana in November and a 50-point win over Brooklyn a couple weeks ago, Boston is the first team in history to record three 50-point wins in a single season. 

The Celtics are now 29-3 at home have now won 11 straight overall. Over that win streak, they have beaten teams by more than 22 points per game. Over the last six, their average margin of victory is over 30 points. Simply put, they are sledgehammering teams, and have been all season. Their 11.6 point differential currently qualifies as the fourth-best mark ever, a tenth of a point shy of the 2016-17 Warriors, arguably the greatest team of all time. 

“They’re the best team in the league right now and they played like it,” Curry, who missed all nine of his 3-point attempts and finished 2 of 13 overall, said of the Celtics. “They played their ass off and that was hard to watch from the other side.”

Again, there are levels to all this, and the Warriors have certainly raised theirs over the last month. Since the return of Draymond Green, they’ve played like one of the better teams in the league. But that doesn’t mean they are one of the better teams in the league. Anyone who believes they are is looking through the prism of pedigree, not present reality. 

Over this 12-4 stretch since Feb. 1, the Warriors have two true quality wins. They beat the Suns on a Curry game-winner, and the Knicks on the road. They beat the Sixers without Joel Embiid and the Lakers without LeBron James. They beat the Nets, Pacers, Jazz, Hornets, Wizards and Raptors. They had a hard schedule to start the season and are now making hay against a softer slate. 

Three times in this stretch the Warriors have had a chance to test themselves against a top-tier contender: They could’ve, and probably should’ve beaten the Clippers, but they didn’t, and they lost to the Celtics and Nuggets by a combined 68 points. They are 13-25 against above-.500 teams. 

None of this means the Warriors can’t be a dangerous team in a playoff series if they manage to make it that far. Green makes them an entirely different animal on both ends. Jonathan Kuminga now moves the needle considerably. Klay Thompson on the right night can swing a game. Curry can still swing an entire series. 

But again, they have to make the playoffs first. Entering play on Monday, they’re No. 9 in the West, one game up on the No. 10 Lakers and one game back of the No. 8 Mavericks. Barring some sort of magic March, they’re almost certainly going to have to win at least one Play-In Tournament game just to make the field. 

The Celtics, on the other hand, have a nine-game lead over the Cavaliers in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the East and a six-game lead over Oklahoma City for the No. 1 overall seed. They’re going to have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, where they have been virtually unbeatable this season with a plus-15.4 point differential. 

With all due respect to former Warriors GM Bob Myers, who said on ABC’s halftime show that this was a bigger game for Boston than it was for the Warriors, nothing could be further from the truth. If Boston did have some sort of hangup against the Warriors in particular, it won’t matter anyway. They won’t see them again. Golden State is not making the Finals. 

The Celtics are paying attention to the Heat, who took them out in last year’s conference finals, the Bucks, and the Sixers, if Embiid comes back. Maybe they have an eye on Cleveland and New York as potential trap contests. They’re looking at the Nuggets, Clippers and Thunder out West should they make the Finals. 

One team they are not measuring themselves against is the Warriors. Not anymore. “The past is the past,” Jaylen Brown said. “We’re focused on what’s in front of us.” 

Source: CBSSports.com

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