In a season in which bright spots need to be found with a telescope, a hard-fought loss to the Eastern power Celtics, in which the Warriors never lost touch and never appeared overmatched, might qualify as a moral victory. And if moral victories counted, the Warriors would be Finals favorites again.
But in a season in which the Warriors’ player losses have led to so many game losses, there were a few more concerns to emerge from the 105-100 defeat at the Celtics’ (10-1) hands on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd of 18,064 at Chase Center, a lively fight that ended as so many have this season: with not just disappointment, but pain.
D’Angelo Russell, after a confounding 12-point, nine-turnover 25 minutes, left the game and did not return with what the team announced is a sprained right thumb. Eric Paschall, who’s emerged as a real contributor for this season and potential role player for next year, appeared to injure his right hand, which wore a heating pad for much of the second half. And though Pascall returned to the game, it’s another poor development in a season of them.
The Warriors opened up a big lead in the first, blew it but hung around, taking a 97-92 lead with 2:25 left in the fourth. But the Celtics went on an 8-0 run, opening a three-point lead with 54 seconds left. On the game-deciding possession, Paschall missed a 3, and Kemba Walker converted on the other end, and the end was near.
Alec Burks put up perhaps his best game as a Warrior, coming off the bench to pour in 20 points on 11 shots, consistently running on the break and knocking down 11-of-12 free throws. He was one of five on Golden State with double digits in a nicely balanced night that may have come with just as much bad news as good.
For a minute or eight in the first, it felt like old times, when 3s rained, the ball moved and leads built. The Warriors opened a 15-point first-quarter bulge against a legitimate title contender, and Chase Center seemed just as shocked as the Celtics. The Golden State defense swarmed, frustrating Walker all night, finishing 6-of-19 from the field and 3-12 from 3. But if the Warriors themselves shoot 5-of-27 from beyond the arc, they have virtually no chance.
When things turn for the 2019-20 Warriors, there is no Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant safety net, no superstar to cut runs short.
Walker induced Ky Bowman into a foolish fouled 3-point attempt with 2:32 in the second in a nice veteran move, knocking down all three to put Boston up 50-47. A game that had been 27-12 was turned upside down with a 38-20 Boston run once its shots started falling. Boston took a 52-51 lead into the half, using an explosive second quarter to restore order in San Francisco.
Jayson Tatum couldn’t be stopped in the first half, able to shoot over Draymond Green and blow by bigger defenders. He had 17 points in the half along with four rebounds and a steal. He finished with 24, though his shooting cooled in the second half.
On the other side of the floor, it was solid efforts by new Draymond Green and old Draymond, who looked like the old Draymond Green.
Paschall was outstanding in the early going, shooting 5-of-9 for 11 points and adding three rebounds at the half. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in quickness, and his strength, as a rookie, already allows him to get wherever he wants to go.
Green, meanwhile, was the orchestrator he couldn’t be recently, and who some doubted he could be at all without stars surrounding him. The lone remaining star had seven points (on five shots) with six rebounds and three assists in the half.
“We need to find ways to showcase him,” Steve Kerr said before Green’s third and best game back from his injured finger.
The Warriors announced Kevon Looney (neuropathic condition), guard Jacob Evans (adductor) and rookie center Alen Smailagic (ankle) would be reevaluated Wednesday.