BOSTON — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr arrived to his pregame media session in Boston on Thursday night to find an overflow throng of media on hand for a battle of streaking NBA conference leaders.
Asked about the significance of the matchup, Kerr deadpanned, “Huge game. Huge. The fate of the universe rests upon the results of tonight’s Celtics-Warriors matchup.”
And yet for much of the night, it kinda felt like it actually might.
TD Garden buzzed with a playoff-like intensity throughout the night, including when an injured Gordon Hayward sat with assistants behind the Boston bench in the first half, drawing an ovation when he was shown on the JumboTron, but especially as the Celtics twice rallied from double-digit deficits while pushing the defending champions for the full 48 minutes.
And it was Kyrie Irving, ditching his protective facemask early in the third quarter despite playing with a facial fracture, who fearlessly attacked the basket in the final minute. His free throws put Boston out front to stay in a 92-88 triumph.
The Celtics have now won 14 straight games since starting the season 0-2. The Warriors had their seven-game winning streak snapped.
Second-year forward Jaylen Brown scored a team-high 22 points and essentially willed Boston back into the game on two occasions. Irving overcame shooting woes to chip in 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Brown played Thursday after the death of a close friend. Brad Stevens wasn’t sure Brown would play and compared his talks today to those he had with Isaiah Thomas before the playoffs last season. The Celtics don’t win this game without Brown.
The Celtics trailed by as much as 17 in the first half but, even as Boston’s offense struggled mightily (30.2 percent shooting overall through two quarters) its defense gave it a chance to rally by holding the Warriors without a field goal over the final 5:25 of the half. Brown gave the Celtics a jolt of energy late in the half, his hustle on display on both ends, and Boston clawed within five at the intermission.
Unfazed, the Warriors pushed their lead back to 17 seven minutes into the third quarter. This time Boston embarked on a 19-0 run and Jayson Tatum’s baseline drive put the Celtics out front 68-66 in the final minute of the frame. The Warriors had more turnovers (5) than field goal attempts (4) during Boston’s four-minute burst. Brown scored 10 points during Boston’s run.
Steph Curry labored through 3-of-14 shooting and finished with just nine points. Kevin Durant scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting for the Warriors.