Once the Kyrie-to-New York rumors started to heat up during the All-Star break, the once-exuberant Celtics became increasingly more depressing to watch (much like their cross-coast rival Lakers) and the "Kyrie is gone, the Celtics are finished!" takes began to blastoff (including from me; I still think he's leaving). With multiple stats pointing towards Boston playing significantly better with Kyrie off-the-floor, and a feeling of little-to-no cohesion in the locker room, the fifth-seeded C's (temporarily) calmed the media firestorm surrounding them with last night's 128-95 routing of the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.
This was a must-win game for a clearly rattled Celtics team that had just gotten defeated by another top team (maybe the top team according to Ralph) in the Rockets on Sunday. Boston needed to prove that they could still be taken seriously as title contenders, and taking down the dynastic Warriors is the best way to demonstrate that. The most surprising part of the game was Gordon Hayward, who had only made 8 (!) shots since the All-Star break entering last night. Dylan Fadden's One True Love played 28 minutes off the bench and surprised the shit out of myself and probably many others in the process. He recorded a game-high 30 points (12-16 from the field), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals and was easily the most vital player in the win. The fact that he's the sixth-highest paid player in the NBA is still mind-boggling, but maybe next year he'll provide more consistent value; last night was a step in the right direction. Hayward was the only Celtic to cross the 20-point mark last night, but the "lack" of other players' scoring wasn't due to poor performances because for the first time in a while, it was a product of genuine team basketball.
I haven't tuned into many Celtics game as of late for the same reason I can't get through the entirety of Lakers' fourth quarters: it's just tough to watch. Something must've clicked for them last night (aka one of Oakland's finest dispensaries) because everyone seemed to enjoy playing with each other for the first time in ages. The Celtics dished out 38 total assists (Kyrie led the team with 11), eclipsing their season average of 26.3 per night. The ball was constantly moving around the floor, and the team was always looking for the open man rather than forcing a long-two or contested layup at the rim. It was a prime example of what the team could do "once they played like they were supposed to", just as seemingly everyone has been saying the whole season. The body language was encouraging as well; players were smiling, celebrating, pulling each other up, and meshing. It's still to be determined if that'll be the narrative for the remainder of the season, but if they want a shot at home-court advantage and/or the title, they need to keep this rolling.
The Warriors, who are 5-5 in their last 10 games, continued to look a bit (or really) off last night. During this mediocre stretch they have suffered losses at the hands of the Magic, Heat (Cornrow DWade with one of the best "shots" of the year), Trail Blazers, and (biggest threat to the title?) Rockets. This honestly doesn't mean much, as we've seen the Warriors fall into short-term inconsistent slumps before that probably derive from being so unbelievably good at basketball. Just about everyone on the Warriors played bad last night, with the exception of Steph Curry, who had 23 points on 8-16 shooting (4-10 from three). KD had an irregular stat-line of 18-2-2, going only 5-16 from the field, and Boogie only managed 10 points while seeming to launch way too many threes. They've also been without Klay Thompson the last two games, and his ability to bomb deep shots alongside Steph was greatly missed against the Celtics (at one point the Warriors missed 15 straight threes). Even though it was a brutal loss, it means nothing for Golden State. They're still the first-seed in the West, and unless the Rockets or Thunder can pull off an all-time valiant effort, they're still my pick to go to and win the Finals.
While it was a potentially invigorating victory for Boston, it still doesn't answer the questions surrounding them. One game isn't going to make Kyrie unhappy and willing to come back, Gordon Hayward may not be able to string together performances like last night's, and the chemistry isn't just going to flow back. The Celtics have to use this game as a pushing off point, and hopefully (for their sake) they realize what the ultimate prize is and put aside their differences for the remainder of the season. Their next four games are against the Kings, Lakers, Clippers, and Nuggets, so this is really where Boston can prove how seriously they should be taken as contenders. Until then, we just have to wait and watch.