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Celtics find long-missing poise in statement win over Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens rarely shows emotion on the sideline, but maybe sensing that his team needed one last jolt of late-game confidence as the Golden State Warriors made a feverish rally trying to preserve both a 54-game home winning streak and their quest for an NBA record 73 wins this season, he did. Stevens wouldn't let his team even consider the notion that its lead might slip away.

"[Stevens] kept saying, 'Look, this is ours. We’re going to win it,'" said Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose layup with 8.3 seconds remaining -- the result of a needle-threading inbound pass from second-year guard Marcus Smart, coupled with a pair of last-gasp misses by the Warriors, allowed Boston to emerge with a heart-stopping 109-106 triumph at Oracle Arena.

Added Thomas: "[Stevens] showed more emotion than usual."

The Celtics, music thumping inside the visitor's locker room at Oracle Arena, likewise exulted after a statement win against the league's defending champs. Boston had taken the Klay Thompson-less Warriors to double overtime back in December at TD Garden before the Warriors prevailed. The Celtics, even as they challenge for a spot in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, have lacked a real statement victory in recent weeks.

Until Friday night. Thomas scored all of his team-high 22 points in the second half, dueling throughout a mesmerizing third quarter with Steph Curry, who finished with eight 3-pointers but missed with a chance to tie the game in the frenetic final seconds.

Thomas, Boston's 5-foot-9 All-Star who has now scored 20-point points in 15 straight games, beamed inside the locker room at Boston's ability to take down the NBA's Goliath. Having let a win slip away the night before in Portland, in part because of Thomas' miscues, and in the midst of a four-team dogfight for a top playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Thomas gushed about the way the Celtics responded and the confidence they can find in this win.

"We know we can beat the best teams in the league," Thomas said. "In our schedule, we beat a lot of the top teams. And we know we can compete. And we know we’re a team that guys don’t really want to play when it comes to the playoffs, just because of how we play and how hard we play."

Inside Boston's locker room, Celtics players were stumping for Avery Bradley to earn All-Defense first team honors, particularly the way he harassed the likes of Damian Lillard and Curry on consecutive nights. Smart, who had been mired in a terrible offensive slump, drew a big media crowd for the mark he left on both ends of the court on this game.

Yes, there was a newfound buzz in Boston's locker room, as if Friday's game reminded the Celtics what this group is capable of.

"I think it’s great for the organization, for the team," Jared Sullinger said. "We understand that’s a great basketball team over there. And they’re chasing history. And so they’re playing great, and we came out with a win. It was a good game. It was a great game. If anybody was watching that game, they loved it because it was just a back-and-forth type of basketball game. And it’s special."

The Celtics withstood multiple bouts of adversity, whether it was Draymond Green's red-hot shooting in the opening minute, or Thomas' offensive funk for much of the first half. And despite playing without Jae Crowder, maybe the nerve center of the team's defense, who had returned to game action following a three-week absence on Thursday night, Boston never believed it didn't have a chance to beat the Warriors.

And maybe that belief is what inspired Stevens to provide a little extra fire at the end of the game.

"Of course [Stevens] was fired up. At the end of the game, he was fired up," Bradley said. "We were all fired up. We all wanted to come in here and get a win. I feel like a lot of teams might come in here and just play hard and hope to win. We knew we were gonna win since the beginning of the game. You don’t understand, in the timeout, we were telling each other, like, we’re gonna win this game, the entire game."

By the time Stevens emerged to talk with the media, he was back to his even-keeled self. He expressed appreciation for the way his team bounced back from Thursday's loss and withstood Golden State's charges.

But asked if the magnitude of the opponent suggested any more progress than usual, Stevens closed his media session by offering, "Progress is not in the result. The progress was in the poise."