When you're a guest in someone else's home, the natural tendency is to play by the house rules. But that hadn't worked for the Celtics over the last six years, so it was time to try a different strategy.
The C's entered Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. on Tuesday night having lost six consecutive games there. They hadn't beaten the Golden State Warriors on the road since 2004, back when no-names like Mike James and Jiri Welsch were making up two-fifths of their starting five.
So they had to mix things up. Rather than play the Warriors' style, they decided to impose their own. Eventually, it led to a 115-93 victory and a resounding end to the Oracle Arena Curse.
"Every time we took a quick, bad shot, they scored," coach Doc Rivers said. "Every time we turned the ball over, they scored. But every time we got back on defense and were able to set up our defense, I thought we were pretty good."
It was a clash of two starkly different styles of basketball — the slow, methodical, team-oriented play that's turned the Celtics into one of the league's best, and the frantic, volume-shooting "Nellieball" style ushered in by old Warriors coach Don Nelson over the years.
The Warriors played by their rules in the first half. It led to a melee of turnovers, fast breaks, rushed shots, bad shots, but ultimately points. Points galore. At the break, the C's had salvaged a 60-60 tie.
After the break, the Celtics remembered how to play their game. They slowed down, they moved the ball, and they executed intelligently and unselfishly. The result was a dominating second-half effort. The C's outscored the Warriors 28-18 in the third quarter and 27-15 in the fourth. The fans were filing out of Oracle with five minutes to play.
"I thought in the first half, we turned the ball over and we took some quick, bad shots," Rivers said. "I thought early on, we got kind of caught up into their pace. But one of the things we told our guys is it's a mistake against them not to run. We wanted to run. We wanted to push it up and see if we could beat them down the floor.
"But once we didn't have that quick layup or quick open shot, we wanted to set up and execute and go to the post. I thought we did a better job of that offensively in the second half, and that enabled us to set our defense."
The defense was dramatically different after the break, with the C's stifling the running, gunning play of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis.
The young guns were out of commission, and the wily veterans took over. Leading the charge was Kevin Garnett, who shot 11-of-16 for a game-high 24.
"We told him before the game — early, often, and we're going to you every single time we can," Rivers said. "We thought that was an advantage for us. Our guys, they were on him. They kept telling him to shoot. You know Kevin, if he takes two in a row, he'll pass the next three times. But they just told him, 'Go, keep going.' It was great to see him do that."
Thanks to a resurgent second half, Garnett finally got his first win in Celtic green at Golden State. It was a long time coming.
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