Thursday’s thriller between the Celtics and Warriors was a statement win for Boston, but it was a victory so ugly only a mother could love it.
If Joe Mazzulla pushed this statement win in a stroller down Causeway Street, strangers would peek into the pram and their breath would catch. “What a precious little one,” they’d say, while silently wondering how a team with such talent and depth could produce basketball so unsightly.
Both Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown got off to cold starts offensively, and the thaw didn’t come until the fourth quarter. With four minutes left in the third, Tatum and Brown had shot a combined 5-for-24 from the field.
Throw that baby out with the bath water.
From the opposite bench, the Warriors were doing all their bright, shiny, Warriors things. Jordan Poole looked confident, like a guy who had never been punched by a teammate in practice before. Steph Curry sank two 3-pointers easily when matched up against Grant Williams. The second shot was so far behind the line, he looked like he was about to step out of bounds.
Al Horford and Rob Williams stepped in with aggression and physicality, keeping Boston in it.
But then there was the logo shot: Curry picked Tatum off in the final seconds of the first half and chucked the ball up for a half court buzzer beater. Thoughts and prayers for Lucky.
The stink hung around through a miserable third quarter. It was the fourth where the team woke up. This wasn’t going to be a pretty win. It was too late for that.
If Boston won, it had to be more about…personality.
“We showed that we were able to weather the storm and stay with it,” Horford said postgame.
It sounds cliché because it is, but through the last quarter of regulation and overtime, the Celtics showed guts they lacked just months ago.
This team has the same warts: the sloppy ball handling, traveling calls, brain farts, and turnovers.
But between Brown’s brutal physicality and late silky shots, Tatum’s incredible endurance (and apparent commitment to cardio), and an overall won’t-quit attitude from role players, this team looked like they were over appearances. It was just about the win.
Mazzulla praised his team’s growth in those intangibles minutes after their 121-118 overtime win.
“It’s about the habits we’re growing as far as our mindset, our poise, our physicality, being able to handle the chaos - the chaos of the game,” he said.
“Can you make a mistake and bounce back from it, and how quickly can that happen?” he added.
Tatum played his part in those mistakes, turning the ball over seven times. He tossed a reckless pass late in the fourth quarter that was picked off by Poole. Brown saved his butt with a 3-pointer moments later. Boston’s star still looked off-kilter against his 2022 Finals foes through three quarters of the game. But that wasn’t for lack of trying: he played a career-high 48 minutes and nabbed 19 rebounds.
“I’m glad we won, it wasn’t pretty. It was more about figuring things out,” Tatum said.
“That just shows the depth of our team. That on a below-average night, we can still find a way to win.
Thursday was the first win of the season in which the Celtics shot under 40% from the field. This season they’ve proved they can play a beautiful offensive game, but in this win, they showed they can beat the Warriors the ugly way too.