The Golden State Warriors entered Friday night's game with the Boston Celtics not having lost at Oracle Arena in 54 regular-season games over a period covering a little more than 14 months. It had been so long that it was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine what would have to happen for the streak to end. What would a team have to do to beat the Warriors on their home floor?
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It turns out it only takes these problems for the Warriors to lose — 22 turnovers, a minus-17 free-throw margin, some very uncharacteristic mistakes in crunch time, and a couple missed chances to tie the score on the last possession of the game. The Celtics put together one of their most impressive defensive performances of the season to leave Oakland with a 109-106 win, ending the Warriors' NBA-record home winning streak at 54 and lowering their record to 68-8. Golden State can now afford only one more loss in its final six games to break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' single-season record of 72 wins.
The last play of the game provides a glimpse into how things went wrong for the Warriors vs. the Celtics. Down three points without a timeout, Draymond Green busted through two defenders without drawing a foul on either himself or a Celtic to catch the inbound and quickly get the ball to Stephen Curry. The presumptive back-to-back MVP faked Amir Johnson to get an open look and seemed on his way to sending the game to overtime. It did not go his way:
Harrison Barnes got an offensive rebound to create another attempt, but his fadeaway was always very unlikely to go.
Those misses were preceded by several other mistakes that could have led to another result. The first came on the prior possession, when the Warriors defense lost Isaiah Thomas to allow an open layup instead of forcing him into free throws:
That miscue proved problematic in part because it's not clear that the officials would have called a foul even if the Warriors had tried to give one. Referees let lots of contact go throughout the game, which the Celtics used to their advantage in defending Curry, Klay Thompson and other shooters very aggressively on the perimeter. Yet the Warriors also benefited from that style in key moments. We've already seen Green's flip of Marcus Smart on the final possession, but here's another look:
Green was involved in another high-impact incident with 30 seconds left when he forced Johnson into a turnover with what looked like a clear foul:
Yet the success was short-lived — Green gave the ball back seven seconds later when he mishandled a pass while heading toward the basket. It was Golden State's 22nd and final turnover, and those mistakes were clearly the biggest difference in the game. The Warriors gave the ball up via unforced errors in key situations, including another late in the fourth when Leandro Barbosa decided to feed the ball to an unsuspecting Brandon Rush instead of Curry on a fastbreak. The Celtics turned those turnovers into 27 points at the other end.
It was especially unfortunate for Golden State because the offense was quite good when it managed to hold onto the ball. The Warriors shot a terrific 20-of-43 from beyond the arc, an especially impressive number considering that Thompson was only 2-of-6. Of course, Curry was stellar from outside, shooting 8-of-14 for 29 points overall. All but eight of those came in the third quarter, when he helped kick-start the Warriors' offense after a 43-point first half:
Several players contributed solid offensive performances, but no one else played in a way that could be considered game-changing. That was an issue on a night where the turnovers limited the team's offense in such a major way.
The Celtics obviously deserve lots of credit for the way they defended the Warriors. The league's best collection of perimeter defenders understandably focused on Curry, although sometimes it was a five-man effort:
More than anything, though, the Warriors looked uncomfortable with the ball in a way they typically do not. The mistakes were uncharacteristic, but the Celtics force such off nights more than most other teams.
The loss ends a number of notable achievements for the Warriors. The 54-win home streak is the obvious one, although it's easy to stay proud when they bested the Bulls' previous record by 10 games. It also ends the Warriors' chances of becoming the first team to go undefeated at home over a full season. The San Antonio Spurs can still reach that goal by winning their final three games at the AT&T Center, one of which comes against the Warriors. The Spurs also have the longest active home winning streak at 47 games.
At 68-8, the Warriors are still a decent bet to win five of their final six to set a single-season record. It could be more of a challenge after Friday after starting center Andrew Bogut suffered a rib injury during a collision with Avery Bradley. X-rays came back negative, but Bogut could at least miss Sunday's home contest against the Portland Trail Blazers.
If the Warriors manage to win their next four (vs. Portland, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Antonio, at Memphis), then that April 10 visit to San Antonio could stand as the most historically significant regular-season game ever. The single-season wins record, first undefeated season at home,and second-longest home streak ever would all be at stake.
The Warriors would have to get there first. As we learned Friday, every game will be a battle from here until the end of Game No. 82. And then the really hard part of the season starts.
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