In a Tale of Two Points Guards, Stephen Curry stands alone, Warriors win 109-105
After beating the Timberwolves on Thursday night, the Golden State Warriors (39-10) took on the Boston Celtics (35-14) at home. This was a battle between both the first-place teams in the the NBA. Heading into the game, the Celtics were holding onto a two-game lead in the East, while the Warriors were hanging onto a four-game lead in the West. The Warriors were looking to redeem themselves after losing to the Celtics earlier in the year. In their only previous matchup, the Celtics were the beneficiary of very sloppy play from the Warriors that led to them taking 33 free throws. This would be the last time the two teams would play unless they go on to meet in the NBA Finals. The Warriors went on to win the game 109-105.
In the first quarter, the Celtics came out hotter than they have ever been this season. They shot a combined 61.9% from the field, which included shooting 62.5% from three. Two players in particular red-hot, Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, both finished with 14 points while shooting a combined 9-9. The Warriors had a pretty mediocre first quarter on both ends. They couldn’t stop Irving or Brown on defense, which led to them allowing a lot of points. On offense, several players just couldn’t get shots to fall. Klay Thompson in particular struggled, going 1-4 with two points. Stephen Curry was not a guy who struggled with his shot, finishing with 13 points. Draymond Green was the next highest scorer with five points. A contributing factor to the sluggish offense was Kevin Durant, who had to sit early in the quarter with two fouls. The Celtics also took seven free throws in the quarter, which was a lot more than the Warriors’ two free throws. After the first quarter, the Celtics led the Warriors 37-27.
The second quarter saw both teams cool off a bit, but the Warriors did not have much room to give in that department. The Warriors’ field goal percentage dipped from around 46% to 44.4%. The Celtics’ field goal percentage plummeted, but they still managed to make shots when they needed them most, and when they were best defended. They were shooting 46.3% at halftime. The Warriors were still being led by Stephen Curry, who finished the half with 16 points on 6-10 shooting, three of which came on an incredible, deep stepback three. Kevin Durant was nipping at his heels with 11 points of his own. Those two were the only Warriors with double-digit scoring numbers, while the Celtics had three such players. Kyrie Irving was still red hot, finishing 7-9 with 19 points. Jaylen Brown still had 14 points and did not score in the second quarter, while Marcus Morris scored 10 points off the bench, including several well-contested shots. The Celtics’ offense was really the story of the half. In the first quarter, when Kyrie was on the court they had the Warriors down by 10, but when he sat for the first few minutes of the second half, the Warriors’ second unit made a run to tie the game. He then checked back in and the Celtics built themselves an eight-point lead. He was making incredible shots regardless of who was covering him or how well he was being defended. He was he driving force behind their high scoring, meaning that the Celtics did not have to rely on Golden State’s sloppiness to get to the line or score off free throws. They only took 10 free throws in the half, and the Warriors only turned the ball over three times. Overall, this was a very high-level basketball game throughout the first half. At the half, the Celtics led the Warriors 54-50.
Stephen Curry exploded in the third quarter to help pull the Warriors ahead of the Celtics. He had 18 points in the quarter, several of which came on incredible, highlight reel-worthy, threes. He finished the quarter with 34 points on 13-20 shooting. Kevin Durant was the next-highest scorer with 15 points. Steph was the driving force of the offense, and deservedly so, he was putting on a masterful performance from beyond the arc. As good as Steph was, Kyrie Irving was just as good, missing only two shots through three quarters. He had 25 points by the time the third quarter ended, which included hitting a 28-foot heat-check three in the face of our beloved Stephen Curry. Both teams were shooting less than 45% from the field, and that was because both teams were playing very solid defense through three quarters, and when points were scored, it was because they were earned. The Warriors only had six turnovers through three quarters, which was a big factor of them having a 80-73 lead heading to the fourth.
The fourth quarter saw the Celtics make a run to take a lead, and turn the game into a back and forth affair down the stretch. It really just continued to be a battle between two point guards. Stephen Curry finished with a season-high 49 points, while Kyrie Irving finished with 37 points on 13-17 shooting. Both teams’ second-highest scorer finished with 20, and they were Kevin Durant and Jaylen Brown. After the Celtics made their run to make the game close, the Warriors (other than Steph) were having a hard time scoring the ball, so Steph decided to take the game back over and started by nailing a deep three in the face of Al Horford. He went on to make a couple other nice shots to help close out the game, but in the final minute, with the Celtics down four, Terry Rozier caught an inbound pass and nailed a deep three to make it a stressful game again. Curry then went on to make four free throws to help ice the game, and the Warriors won 109-105.
This game was absolutely incredible, and it was almost the complete opposite of the time the two teams played earlier this year. The refs let the players play for the most part, and the game was decided by the play of two superstar point guards. There is not enough that can be said about the performances of Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving in this game. They were simply remarkable. While the Warriors have three other all stars on their team, and a system in which they can score with ease, nothing is more important than their two-time MVP. The Celtics are an incredible defensive team, and often times have trouble scoring, and they did last year as well. That system allowed for Isaiah Thomas to be a breakout star in the league, and they upgraded with a trade for Kyrie Irving over the summer, who has earned a reputation as the best finisher in the league. Kyrie Irving is the driving force behind the otherwise mediocre Boston offense, and has the ability to take his teammates to a whole other level, which is a compliment that is usually reserved for guys like LeBron James or Stephen Curry, but Kyrie Irving deserves to be in that conversation, if not at the forefront of it.
This game was a potential NBA Finals preview, as both of these teams have the best record in their respective conferences, and in my mind, this would be the most fun Finals matchup. The two teams feature some of the most explosive, dynamic players in the league, and they deserve to meet in the finals. A game like today has me even more excited for the future of the Celtics, as they will have Gordon Hayward back next season, and have the capability to make big trades thanks to the ingenious work of GM Danny Ainge. The Celtics have the opportunity to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference for a long time if they are able to knock out LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason, and I think that they have a legitimate shot at doing so. If these two teams go on to meet in the finals for the next few years, Steph and Kyrie could have the chance to go down as this generation’s Magic v. Bird, and that would be incredible.
Now, after today’s game, I think it is officially time for the rest of the NBA to recognize Stephen Curry as the most valuable player in today’s NBA. He can energize a team and it’s fans in a way that no other player has ever been able to do. There is nothing that will ever compare to the fans inside Oracle Arena when Stephen Curry pulls up from five feet beyond the arc and drills a three. It is unreal. Since returning from his injury in the middle of the season, he is averaging 31.5 ppg in 12 games. He is shooting 50.7% (71-140) from three, and is absolutely unguardable at the offensive end. He has put up better numbers in the 12 games since he got hurt than he put up in either of his two MVP seasons. If he can keep this up, then not only does he deserve to be in the conversation for MVP, he deserves to be the league’s Unanimous MVP for only the second time in its storied history.
Ultimately, this game was a tale of two point guards. One young magician who can finish at the hoop in any way imaginable, while also nailing the biggest shots in the biggest moments, including the biggest shot in NBA history, the game-winner in the 2016 NBA Finals. The other point guard is a small, fearless shooter who can slingshot the ball through the hoop from nearly anywhere on the court, and has done so when it mattered most en route to two-consecutive MVP awards. The two point guards have had countless battles on the NBA’s biggest stages, and both have tasted the sweet taste of victory, and the bitter bite of defeat. Tonight, Stephen Curry, the fearless shooter, stood alone as the best point guard, and best player, that the NBA has to offer.
The Warriors play their next game on Tuesday, January 30, on the road against the Utah Jazz at 6 p.m.