The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have met in the last three NBA Finals, but Steve Kerr believes there’s a new Eastern Conference contender on the horizon. Whether it’s this year or another, the Warriors coach thinks his juggernaut of a roster will have to deal with the Boston Celtics.
“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie [Irving] is amazing,” Kerr told reporters at practice on Tuesday, via ESPN, two days before his Warriors meet the Celtics in Boston on national TV. “That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that’s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”
The Celtics split their four meetings with the Warriors the past two seasons, and no other team has been better than .500 against Golden State in that span. But this is a different Boston team, returning only four players from the team that the Cavaliers stomped in the conference finals last season.
The Celtics and Cavs swapped All-Star point guards, and the C’s essentially exchanged Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk for Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis — a series of moves that have so far resulted in the league’s best record (13-2) and defense (95.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). All that after losing Gordon Hayward six minutes into the season.
Steve Kerr on the Celtics, who he calls "the team of the future" in the East pic.twitter.com/tGCoVbypWB
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 14, 2017
“They’re dialed in. They’re well-coached, obviously. Brad [Stevens] is amazing. I think Jaylen Brown in his second year has made huge strides” said Kerr. “They add Tatum, so you’ve got another long-armed guy who can switch, and their bigs are really smart. Al Horford and Baynes are really sharp basketball players, so they’re all on a string, they play off each other really well and they’re really sound.
“And they’re motivated. This is a team that’s been on the rise the past couple years, lost in the conference finals. They want to win a championship, and it looks like it. Even without Gordon Hayward and that awful injury, Boston is just crushing people, so it’s going to be really fun to go against them.”
Crushing might be a bit of an overstatement, since the Celtics have had a series of survive-and-advance victories during their season-best 13-game win streak. Smothering might be a better description. Boston has held opponents to less than 100 points in all but three of their 15 games, and the Brooklyn Nets only eclipsed the century mark on a meaningless 3-pointer in the final seconds.
As a result, Boston has outscored opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions, the league’s second-best net rating and the same margin that got the San Antonio Spurs to 61 wins last season. Of course:
Just realized the Warriors have outscored their opponents more in their seven-game win streak (+139) than the Celtics have in their 13-game streak (+133).
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) November 15, 2017
To this point: Golden State's net rating this season (14.1) is more than six points better than Boston's (7.8). https://t.co/rw3ZP7tbPn
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 15, 2017
All of which makes Thursday night’s “NBA on TNT” showdown between the Celtics and Warriors that much more exciting. Even Kerr couldn’t contain himself, calling a four-game road trip bookended by games in Boston and Oklahoma City that will take his team across the country and back “really fun.”
“It’s a fun thing, because you only play these teams twice, obviously,” the Warriors coach added. “It’s fun to go against the contenders from the other conference because you get that glimpse and usually you’re only watching them on TV. So, you take advantage of the two nights that you see them.”
None of what Kerr is now saying about the Celtics is all that different from what we already knew. With Kyrie Irving added to a core that includes fellow All-Stars Horford and eventually Hayward, two recent No. 3 picks already playing well beyond their years, a depth chart full of still-developing young talent, and five first-round draft picks over the next two years, including another potential top-five selection this coming June, the Celtics are set up to own the East whenever LeBron James’ reign ends.
What is mildly surprising, though, is that the coach of the team with the NBA’s best record over the past three seasons and two titles to show for it already considers the Celtics “contenders,” even without Hayward and well before their cache of recent lottery picks even begin to approach their prime. Given that Kerr’s super-team is also built for the present and future, you get the feeling that Thursday night’s showdown could be the first of many clashes on their way to more important bouts.
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