BOSTON - Moments after his Boston Celtics completed a lopsided victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers - the team's fifth straight win, and 10th straight at the comforts of TD Garden - Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked if this was an ideal time for a visit from the Golden State Warriors.
"Have you seen them play recently?" Stevens deadpanned. "I don't know that anybody in the league should say it's an ideal time to play them."
The Warriors, who seemingly slothed their way through early portions of the 2018-19 season, have won eight straight games heading into Thursday's visit to the Washington Wizards. Golden State appears invigorated, in part, by the recent addition of DeMarcus Cousins, who made his Warriors debut last week while returning from a year-long absence due to an Achilles tear.
Call Saturday night's showdown between the Celtics and Warriors a litmus test or a measuring-stick game or whatever you desire to state the obvious: The Celtics finally get a chance to gauge themselves against the best team in the NBA.
For all their seesaw play this season, the Celtics can right a lot of wrongs by proving themselves worthy competitors on Saturday night. While we shouldn't put too much stock in a single regular-season matchup, it's impossible not to get a little amped for the first of two showdowns between two teams widely projected to represent their conferences entering the season. Overreactions will occur and that's OK.
That both teams come in with a bit of momentum only revs up the hype train. And, joke as he might about the daunting nature of playing the Warriors, it does seem like ideal timing for Boston to get a status check.
"We're not as good as we want to be but we don't expect to be as good as we want to be," said Stevens. "That's part of being your very best at the end of the year and continually growing and improving.
"We'll find more about ourselves on Saturday night."
☘️CELTICS 123, CAVALIERS 103
The Celtics have been all over the map at times this season, but have typically reserved their best play for top competition. They've beaten all four teams that remain ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, and now they'll get a crack at a Golden State team that's elevated back to familiar territory with the best record in the West.
As Kevin Garnett might note, the Jungle will be rocking.
"I think we all know it's going to be crazy," Terry Rozier said after producing another monster night (26 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) while starting in place of ill Kyrie Irving in Wednesday's win over the Cavaliers.
"We're all ready for that. That's the most exciting part about that game, the crowd is going to come."
From this vantage point, the best part about the Celtics-Warriors tilt is finally being able to gauge where the teams stand in relation to one another. For as exhilarating as Boston's playoff run was last season, we were left yearning for more. Make no mistake, if the Celtics had advanced to the Finals, they were extreme longshots to knock off the Warriors, especially playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
But at least we would have gotten an idea of just how big the gap was between the two teams. We might have been able to guess if a healthy roster could bridge that divide. The Celtics have always felt confident against the Warriors because they believe they match up as well as any team against them. Rozier said as much last offseason, boldly declaring that Boston likely matched up better than the Cavaliers did in the Finals.
The Warriors swept the Cavaliers and it was fair to keep wondering whether Boston might have offered more resistance, though the Celtics might have been swept away just as quickly. In the aftermath, LeBron took his talents to Hollywood and the Celtics were anointed next in line in the East.
☘️CELTICS 123, CAVALIERS 103
It hasn't come that easy in a conference where Toronto brought in Kawhi Leonard, all while the Bucks, Sixers, and Pacers asserted themselves as legitimate forces (though the Victor Oladipo injury makes things a bit more uncertain for the Pacers moving forward).
But now we'll finally get a glimpse of how these two teams match up. These are far from the finished products that we'll see in April or May (or June?) But this is clearly more than your typical January regular-season matchup. Break out those measuring sticks and let's embrace the opportunity to evaluate.
"However way you draw it up you have to play them regardless, so we're not backing down from any challenges," said Jaylen Brown. "So we're going to come out and play Celtics basketball and take the fight to them."
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