Just another game? Celtics try to downplay visit from Warriors

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Embracing the "next game on the schedule" mantra of their cool-as-a-cucumber coach, the Boston Celtics tried hard Thursday to suggest that Friday's visit from the undefeated Golden State Warriors is just another game. Yup, just as important as a trip to Charlotte that looms soon after.

They're not wrong, but they are fibbing a bit. There's a palpable buzz with the Warriors and their 23-0 record in town. A quick glance at ticket reseller StubHub.com revealed that tickets to Friday's game ranged from $160 to sit near the top of the balcony to $9,000 for a spot behind the Boston bench. Contrast that to Tuesday's visit from LeBron James and the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers -- still a marquee matchup -- where you can get in the door for a mere $38.

Friday's visit from the defending champs would be a hot ticket regardless of Golden State's record. But the fact that the Warriors are unblemished in the second week of December adds a layer of intrigue to the meeting.

So, no, this isn't just another game.

"[The media is] hyping it up to be a championship-level game," Jae Crowder said. "We are just playing good basketball right now. I’m excited to keep it going for ourselves and for our team. Like [coach] Brad [Stevens] said today, we are just going to focus on ourselves."

Added Avery Bradley: "I feel like it’s just another game for us. [The Warriors] are playing great as a team right now but we can’t go out there thinking like this is the championship. It's not."

Away from cameras and microphones, you can be certain that Celtics players are whispering about an opportunity to do what no team has done since April 7 -- hand the Warriors a regular-season defeat.

Just ask Leon Powe, a member of Boston's 2008 title team who now serves a variety of roles for the Celtics, including community liaison. Powe was part of a Boston squad that produced a 19-game winning streak during the 2008-09 season (tied for the seventh-longest streak in league history) and, maybe more notably, was on the 2007-08 squad that ended the Houston Rockets' 22-game winning streak.

"Leading into the [Rockets] game, we knew what was at stake," Powe said. "We said to ourselves, privately, we want to break the streak right here, right now. We want to get this done. We came out focused and played well."

Make no mistake, the 2008 Celtics were a juggernaut that was three months from raising Banner 17. The 2016 Celtics are a young squad that's hoping to build off of last year's surprising surge to the playoffs. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't relish a chance to be a streak-buster.

Powe offered a knowing smile when told how Boston players were downplaying Friday's matchup. Having been both a streaker and a buster, he knows the added level of intensity that comes with every game. He remembers all of Boston's opponents giving the Celtics their best shot trying to break its streak and took a victory lap recalling his own efforts in helping end Houston's run.

"I played real good," said Powe, who scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting over 20:21 during Boston's 94-74 triumph on March 18, 2008. It was one of only seven times in which Powe scored 20-plus points during his career.

Was Powe motivated by the streak? Most definitely (and it didn't hurt that childhood rival Chuck Hayes was on the Rockets, too). But Powe admitted the key for the Celtics is to harness the intensity and remain focused on the task at hand.

That helps explain why Stevens has done all he can to downplay the hype around the game. Boston is playing some inspired basketball lately, winning six of its past eight games and owning the third-best defensive rating in the league. But Stevens knows it's going to take a locked-in effort to even have a chance against this Warriors team.

"Obviously one of the best teams that I’ve ever seen, certainly that I’ve ever coached against," Stevens said of the Warriors. "The way that they’ve started is incredible. The energy with which they play is incredible. And as skilled as they are, it seems that that’s how much fun they have and how connected they are as a team. Heck of a challenge. Nobody’s conquered it yet, so we’ll give it our best shot."

Stevens was asked what, beyond Stephen Curry's unconscious shooting, makes the Warriors so dangerous.

“Don’t undersell that part, right?" Stevens said. "Those guys can make shots that other people can’t make at a very consistent rate. For Curry to be shooting 46 percent from 3 is a joke for how tough some of his shots are, and just tells you how great of a shooter he is and how good he is with the ball, because his [shots] are all challenged. Everybody goes through the game plan with the idea of trying to make it as tough as possible on both he and Klay [Thompson]. And they still make really tough shots. So it starts with that. Their defense is great. They get you on back cuts because you’re worried about the guards. They just have a lot of weapons. That’s for sure."

Added Stevens: "Gotta play well. Gotta play good basketball on both ends. We’ve got things we want to do defensively and offensively, but it’s easier said than done. You have to do them for 48 minutes."

During his weekly radio appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub, even Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admitted, "You just have to hope [the Warriors] miss some shots."

Golden State arrived in Boston after Tuesday's win in Indiana and will be well rested, even as the Warriors near the finish line of what was supposed to be a grueling, seven-game road trip. Golden State has had a couple nail-biters along the way, including in Utah and Toronto, but the streak remains intact.

Crowder suggested the only streak that matters to him is Boston's current two-game winning streak.

"We know what we have to do, which is to win a game and keep a streak of our own going," Crowder said. "We’re playing good right now and we are just trying to protect home court."