OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors finally lost a regular-season game at home, their first since Jan. 27, 2015. Logically, this had to happen eventually. Golden State had just escaped so many losses, so many times, that the defending champs had claimed an aura of invincibility in Oakland. It didn't matter that Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli were out. The Warriors winning at home was inevitable.
That is, until the Boston Celtics decided otherwise. That Boston won 109-106 on Friday doesn't do justice to the feat. Without Jae Crowder, the Celtics beat the Warriors on a night when Golden State hit 20 3-pointers at Oracle Arena.
Boston's first-half defensive game plan was crucial to its success. Just when it appeared the league had adopted a blueprint for Stephen Curry, the Celtics tried something different. Defenses fear ceding any daylight to Curry and have, lately, largely elected to switch defenders when he receives a screen. It's a strategy that can work when your defense is blessed with massive, mobile big men such as the ones Utah boasts.
On Friday, the Celtics pressed their own advantage: speedy, scrappy, perimeter defenders, hounding Curry sans help. They started by chasing Curry around screens, pressuring him when appropriate. The early results were fantastic from Boston's perspective: Curry ended the first half with six points and seven turnovers.
There isn't really a permanent blueprint for guarding Curry, though, as every scheme has its downsides. Once the Warriors started setting high screens for Curry, they achieved an offensive flow, with Curry firing in 21 third-quarter points.
Unfortunately for Golden State, Boston found its stride as well in the third quarter, with Isaiah Thomas blasting the Warriors for 18 points in the stanza. Then the Celtics surged further ahead in the fourth as Curry rested, necessitating an emergency injection of Curry and Draymond Green (at center) with 7 minutes, 20 seconds left.
If Curry carried the Warriors, Green entered to save them, fueling a mad-dash run in the closing minutes. It culminated in a jaws-of-life steal wrenched from Amir Johnson, with the Warriors down two with 30 seconds remaining.
But on the next possession, Green lost the ball back to Johnson, just as Curry was springing open. The Warriors had a clever design in which they’d anticipated a trap on Curry, and sent Harrison Barnes to screen the area. It worked, perhaps too well.
“I kind of started observing the floor before I really grabbed the ball and kind of saw the exact situation that we wanted,” Green said. “Let the ball go.”
That was far from the only play the Warriors would like to have back. Curry missed a would-be tying 3 on the final possession, and Barnes kept the offensive rebound for himself rather than shovel it back out to the open MVP as time was expiring. Brandon Rush mishandled what should have been an open dunk with 3:26 remaining.
Mistakes like these doomed the Warriors. That and the fact that the Celtics just wouldn't relent, matching Golden State's broadsides with baskets that appeared harder to manufacture -- Boston reclamation project Evan Turner came through with two contested jump shots in crunch time, for example. In the end, the collective grit of the Celtics overcame.
“It sucks to lose because we haven’t had this feeling at home in a while,” Curry said after the game. “We had a good fight tonight. We overcame sloppy play in the first half, especially with the turnovers, gave ourselves a chance to win. But the Celtics played well down the stretch, made shots in the fourth quarter.”
That was the pared-down summary of what happened. The Warriors (and especially Curry) couldn’t recover from early mistakes, in large part due to Boston’s spirited play at the end.
“It is kind of weird being in that vibe,” Curry said of losing at home after so much success. In the rare instances when Golden State loses, Curry has taken to using “weird” as a go-to descriptor. The stunned crowd that departed Oracle likely shared that sense of the uncanny. The Warriors had won so many games they should have probably lost, that finally losing such a game had a hint of the surreal.
So, suddenly, the Warriors lose their home win streak and throw a 73-win season into some doubt. Golden State goes into every home game as heavy favorites, but probability isn’t inevitability, and greatness isn’t perfection. The closest the Warriors can come is bettering someone else. As Curry put it, after the game, “There’s a reason why, for 20-plus years, nobody’s been able to put together a season like Chicago did.”