Celtics dismantle Warriors 128-95, show some fight against the champs

The Boston Celtics thumped the Golden State Warriors 128-95 in one of their best all-around performances of the season. After a string of miserable efforts against lowly teams, the Celtics showed their dominance against the defending champions on their home court. They played the right way, committed on the defensive end, and trusted one another to make the right play. This win was important, and could spark a run heading down the home stretch of the regular season.

I've been as frustrated as anyone with the Celtics this season, and especially over the past few weeks, but something about playing the reigning champs on national TV really gets the engine going. The Celtics and Warriors have always played highly competitive, entertaining games because of the talent on both teams, and tonight's matchup was no different, albeit just for Boston fans.

The Celtics got out to the best start they could have possibly asked for. An 11-0 run on 5-7 shooting got Boston off to a hot start and really put Golden State on their heels early. Much like their first matchup, Brad Stevens and Co. decided to put DeMarcus Cousins in the action a lot on the offensive end. Al Horford made the most of this decision early on, and assisted on four of the team's first five baskets.

After much talk and speculation about the attitude and atmosphere surrounding the Celtics, the style of play against Golden State was certainly more indicative of a cohesive unit. The ball was moving and players were making the extra pass to swap a good shot for a great shot.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Celtics were not going to shut out the Warriors on this night. As they have become known to do, Golden State went on a 12-2 run of their own to cut the Boston lead to 13-12. The C's were able to weather the storm and Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown added seven quick points to push the lead back out to eight with just under three minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Celtics shot 61 percent from the floor and assisted on 12 of their 14 hoops in the opening frame. While the offense was flowing, the defense was the most together it has been in a long time. They had multiple efforts across the board and forced five Warrior turnovers. There was a stark contrast in the defensive intensity the team had show since coming out of the All-Star break.

Hayward came out and played the game like he had something to prove. You'll remember last time the Celtics played the Warriors, an anonymous Golden State player (Draymond Green) called Hayward, "A liability on both ends of the floor." Over 14 first half minutes, Hayward scored 19 points on 7-8 shooting to go along with four rebounds and two assist. He looked explosive, athletic, and confident early on.

Boston opened up the second quarter on a 17-8 run, including making their first six shots from the field. The offense was humming, and it was ball movement and cutting, not isolation ball, that made that possible.

With Klay Thompson missing the game due to injury, the Warriors couldn't get their offense rolling in the first half. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant combined for 29 of the team's 48 points in the first half, and were the only two Warriors in double figures. Cousins got into early foul trouble, and a lack of depth hindered their ability to keep up on the offensive or defensive end.

The Celtics piled on the injured Warriors throughout the second quarter. Boston outscored Golden State 41-24 in the second and extended their lead to 25 at the halftime break.

The first half was a glimpse at the maximum potential of the Boston Celtics. The ball was moving, the defense was stingy, and there was a little bit of grit and toughness as well. They got contributions across the board and played the brand of basketball that has given them the most success. With their third quarter struggles well documented, they still needed to keep that effort and mental toughness for the rest of the game to hold off a Warriors team that can go on a 20-0 run in the blink of an eye.

Golden State, predictably, came out with an increased effort to start the second half. They started the third quarter on an 11-5 run and got the lead under 20 points. In what has been their most difficult quarter of late, though, the Celtics were able to counterpunch and stop the Warriors from going supernova and making a real game of it. A Kyrie Irving offensive rebound led to a Horford three and then Jayson Tatum finished a circus layup to stretch the lead back out to 25.

SIDE NOTE: Tatum straight up snatched Durant's soul midway through the third quarter.

As the third quarter rolled on, the defensive effort started to slip for the C's. Golden State was beating them up the floor on fast breaks and got a number of easy looks at the rim, even off of Boston makes. The Warriors got a bit more pep in their step and cut the lead down to 17 points.

The difference tonight, between tonight and second half collapses of the past few weeks, was Boston's resolve when facing adversity. Instead of dropping their heads, the Celtics had an answer for every mini run the Warriors went on. The C's didn't compound their mistakes by making more, they stuck to the game plan and were rewarded for their mental fortitude. Boston conquered their third quarter issues, against the best third quarter team in the league, nonetheless, and EXTENDED their halftime lead by four heading into the fourth quarter.

With the game largely in hand for most of the fourth quarter, things got a bit testy between Cousins and, well, most of the Celtics' roster. After Cousins dropped Aron Baynes with an offensive foul, he stood over him and yelled, presumably, about flopping. He then shoved Tatum, and exchanged a few shoves with Terry Rozier, who came in to defend his teammates. Who says this team hates each other?!

With a tough matchup against the Sacramento Kings less than 24 hours away, a road blowout gave Stevens the chance to rest most of his starters. Kyrie was the only Celtic who played at least 30 minutes, but he was able to take the whole fourth quarter off. We are on to Sacramento!

Follow Connor Casey on Twitter @Connor_Casey5
Photo via Boston Celtics/Twitter