BOSTON — Since DeMarcus Cousins’ return last week from a torn left Achilles tendon, Golden State has looked borderline unstoppable, which isn’t necessarily surprising given that it boasts five All-Stars in their prime.
But in their 115-111 win Saturday over the Celtics at TD Garden, the Warriors shed their air of invincibility — for one night, at least. Boston — the preseason Eastern Conference favorite — weathered a slew of Golden State rallies, made timely second-half stops and nearly handed the Warriors their first defeat in more than three weeks.
Not until Stephen Curry hit two free throws with 6.2 seconds left did Golden State finally seal its 10th straight victory. And this wasn’t a case of the Warriors’ own inattention allowing an inferior opponent to hang around. Golden State was its dynamic self for extended stretches, only for the Celtics to showcase one of the league’s stingiest defenses and push the back-to-back NBA champions to the brink.
It was all more evidence for why many Warriors players consider Boston their most daunting potential Finals matchup. With an innovative head coach (Brad Stevens), an All-Star point guard with plenty of playoff experience against Golden State (Kyrie Irving) and a deep, talented supporting cast, the Celtics should give the Warriors trouble for years to come.
In nearly pushing its own winning streak to six games, Boston ratcheted up its defensive intensity when it mattered most. The Celtics used a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter to seize a 96-94 lead with 8:27 left. Little more than a minute after Golden State guard Klay Thompson nailed a 3-pointer to put his team up 111-108, Boston guard Marcus Smart drilled a three to knot the game with 1:08 left.
Thompson hit two free throws before the Celtics missed three shots — a three from Smart, a 9-foot runner from Irving and a three from Marcus Morris — and sent Draymond Green to the foul line with 8.6 seconds remaining. Green clanked both free throws, only to grab the offensive rebound and find Curry in time to get fouled.
Photo: Elise Amendola, Associated Press
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To escape with the victory, the Warriors had needed inspired performances from Kevin Durant (33 points, nine rebounds), Curry (24 points), Thompson (21 points), Cousins (15 points, eight rebounds in just 23 minutes) and Green (11 rebounds, eight assists). They seemingly learned from their litany of defensive miscues in Thursday’s win over Washington and held the Celtics to 41.4 percent shooting.
The problem: Golden State labored for stretches with Boston’s switch-heavy defense and deviated from its pass-happy blueprint. For the first time in nine games, the Warriors failed to eclipse the 30-assist mark, settling for 23.
Golden State is 6-3 against the Celtics since Steve Kerr — who became the fastest coach in the four-major sports Saturday to reach 300 wins — took over before the 2014-15 season, but five of those wins came by three, five, five, four and four points. Boston, it appears, has narrowed the talent gap.
Now, with the Warriors looking borderline unstoppable most nights, NBA fans desperate for a new champion might be depending on the Celtics to dethrone them.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Warriors-get-tested-by-Celtics-but-still-push-13564775.php.