Celtics Can Still Take Down The League’s Elite

Don’t allow the Celtics 104-88 blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors confuse you. Boston is still capable of competing with the best in the NBA.

The third quarter of the Boston Celtics lopsided defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors was emasculating for a team that had carved out a niche for itself in pushing the NBA’s elite to the brink throughout the 2015-16 season.

The 31-9 Warriors surge undermined Boston in every aspect of the game, as Golden State painted the Celtics to appear like a junior varsity team playing against the varsity. Poorly executed Celtics passes led to easy run-outs for the Warriors, who made Boston look like a perennial cellar-dweller on every offensive possession.

Shooting guard Klay Thompson showcased why he has become a centralized commodity in Celtics trade rumors, using his length to rise up and connect on shots from every corner of the floor. Two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry pulled up in transition for seamless three-point shots, and 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant skied for sensational alley-oop finishes.

At the conclusion of the 12-minute period, Celtics fans were already filing for the exits en masse, and a black cloud situated itself over what was supposed to be a breakout game for the Boston contingent.

Despite the harrowing result, do not allow the Celtics performance to fool you, as the team is still perfectly capable of defeating the Warriors when they travel to Oracle Arena on March 8. Missing a pair of starters in Al Horford and Jae Crowder hampered the Celtics significantly on both sides of the ball on Friday night. Essentially, this outing created an inaccurate measuring stick for Boston.

Lacking Crowder, the Celtics were forced to place 6’2″ guard Avery Bradley on the 6’9″ Durant. As you might expect, Durant utilized his unparalleled length to expose Bradley throughout his 33 minutes on the floor. Repeatedly, Durant would garner the ball on the high elbow and back his way down to a lucrative shooting position. Then, using his marksmanship from midrange, he would turn around and knock down the jumper with plenty of room to spare while outstretched over the helpless Bradley. This led to Durant shooting an impressive 10-13 from the field en route to 23 points, 10 rebounds, and seven dimes.

With Crowder back in the lineup, Durant should find the going much more difficult. Weighing 235 pounds, Crowder will not be vulnerable to be bodied by Durant. Thus, KD will not be able to dictate where he wants to go on the court. Crowder’s 6’6″ frame and accompanying lengthiness should make it difficult for Durant to pass the ball out shooters on the perimeter, which he did with ease while putting on a passing clinic on Friday night.

Additionally, simply having Crowder in the lineup with allow the Celtics to harbor more versatility in guarding Thompson and Curry. Boston will be able to switch Bradley onto Thompson, which should prevent the Washington State product from finding the easy open looks on which he capitalized for 28 points at TD Garden. The Celtics actually did a fantastic job in pressuring Curry on the three-point line as he shot just 2-10 from long range, and having Crowder returned will allow the likes of Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas to apply even more pressure on him.

The presence of Horford will also prove substantial for the Celtics, with his effect coming more on the offensive side of the ball. Boston shot just 37.3 percent from the field against the Warriors, with Thomas (4-for-12) struggling to find open looks throughout the contest. With Horford back, Thomas will be able to find open driving lanes off of the pick-and-roll as defenses will need to pay respect to Horford when he spots up on the perimeter or rolls to the rim.

Additionally, Horford provides facilitation for the Boston offense with his supreme passing skills. With his body likely drawing multiple defenders on the perimeter, Horford’s court vision will allow him to find open options on the outside.

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