How Warriors can clarify status, identity in big game vs. Celtics

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How Warriors can clarify status in big game vs. Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Three games beyond the halfway point of the season, the Warriors still don’t know what they are. Contender or pretender? The edgy squad that spanked the rampaging Celtics in December? Or the indifferent crew that nine days ago was slapped around by a band of backups from Phoenix?

Well, the earnest search for truth begins Thursday against the Celtics in Boston, where grudges live forever.

It’s a rematch of the 2022 NBA Finals, the marquee game of the night, on national TV. The sellout crowd at TD Garden will be as menacing as the law allows, with a few lubricated enough to disregard local penal codes.

“We know it will be electric in there,” Jordan Poole told reporters after practice Wednesday in Washington D.C., before the flight to Boston.

The Warriors are smart enough to realize that despite the hype, this should not at this time be viewed as a preview of the 2023 NBA Finals.

“Where we are is 22 and 22,” said coach Steve Kerr, referring to Golden State’s record. “We’re .500. We’re not good enough right now to look at this as a potential meeting down the road.  That would be great, we’d love that.

“But we’ve got to get better before we start thinking that way.”

Where are the Warriors? Living under a stack of inconvenient facts designed for humility. They’ve had a five-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak. They’ve been swept (0-2) by the Orlando Magic for the first time since 2013 and swept (0-2) by the Pistons for the first time since 2009. They’re 0-3 against the Suns – with every loss by double digits.

Kevon Looney hopes his teammates can draw inspiration from what the Celtics accomplished last season. They were 22-22 through the first 44 games before snarling their way to a 29-9 record over the final 38 games.

“When you think about it, with what they had to go through last year to find their identity, go on a run and finish second in the East, we kind of have the same goal,” he said Wednesday. “We’re right there, a few games away from having a high seed, and a few games from being out of the mix.

“So, it’s our time of the year. We’ve been talking about putting games together all year, but now is the time to do that.”

If there is a team with the ingredients to coax the full measure of Golden State’s spirit and venom, it is the Celtics, whose 33-12 record is the best record in the NBA. They have a seven-game win streak, an MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum and a Coach of the Year candidate in Joe Mazzulla.

Moreover, the Celtics have the bitter memories of last June when they took a 2-1 lead in The Finals but lost Game 4 to Stephen Curry’s 43 points and never won again. In six days, they went from smelling a 3-1 lead to making vacation plans.

Furthermore, Boston has the additional chip on its shoulder that came with a 16-point loss last Dec. 10 at Chase Center.

While motivational backdrop sides with the Celtics, the Warriors are out to fix all the things that have kept them at or around .500 all season. Sluggish starts. Live-ball turnovers. Defensive breakdowns. Mental lapses. Failing to maintain game-plan discipline.

The proclivity for fouling.

RELATED: Kerr proclaims Steph was 'made to be face' of Dubs franchise

It's a lot, and it explains a lot.

“We’ve got to improve in a lot of areas,” Kerr conceded. “I have no doubt that we can do that. (Thursday) with Boston and the next night against Cleveland, that’s two great challenges for our team to try to make some strides and get ourselves back in that position where we are one of the elite teams in the league again.

“We’re not there right now.”

When the Warriors step on the floor at TD Garden, they will be decided underdogs. Win or lose, they will be one step closer to clarifying their status when they walk off the floor.

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