There was only one thing left to say at the end of the Boston Celtics' 121-118 overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors Thursday night:
Seven more games of this, please.
Boston and Golden State did not disappoint during their second and final meeting of the regular season. The only disappointment, really, is knowing we won't get to see these two teams square off again unless they deliver an improbable, albeit overwhelmingly welcomed, NBA Finals rematch in June.
Thursday's meeting had a little to a lot of everything: clutch buckets, inexplicable turnovers, harbingers of growth, evidence of lingering weaknesses, turn-back-the-clock Al Horford, questionable foul calls and no-calls, offensive rebounds galore, Jayson Tatum lows, Jayson Tatum highs and Stephen Curry relocation masterpieces on top a beyond half-court buzzer beater:
It had philosophical inquiries:
Oh, yeah, this game had overtime, too—thanks to a gargantuan crunch-time bucket from Jaylen Brown, who returned to the Celtics lineup after missing about one week with a right adductor injury:
This isn't even the half of it. Or the quarter of it. This game had so much more—oh so much more. Listing it all off would be information overload.
More than anything, though, it had a playoff vibe—a Finals feel.
The Warriors and Celtics didn't treat this like just another regular-season tilt. Tatum played all 29 second-half and overtime minutes. Klay Thompson put up a defensive fight we haven't seen since, well, the last time Golden State played Boston, back on Dec. 10. Jordan Poole even had a handful of quality defensive possessions that made you want to double-check the calendar, as well as the name on the back of his jersey. (He also had his usual, on-brand dose of WTF moments.)
There was a certain tension throughout the game typically reserved for springtime basketball. Every unforced turnover for the Celtics felt irredeemable. Every offensive rebound the Warriors forfeited had you violently keyboard-navigating to your favorite trade machine.
Every lead larger than one possession felt insurmountable.
This isn't an over-projection of emotion. Nor is it prisoner-of-the-moment material. Tatum admitted during his walk-off interview with Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and NBA on TNT that this game was different. And then he did so again while speaking with the rest of the media on-hand:
At the risk of bellowing into the clouds, wrinkles decorating my face as I reject irrefutable scientific proof in favor of #DoingMyOwnResearch, the wire-to-wire play and energy during Celtics-Warriors was...refreshing.
And we, as basketball fans, deserved it.
Anecdotally, this regular season seems to be suffering from an inundation of injuries and the Clippers-ification of availability. Nearly every should-be-critical game has featured a premier absence or three.
Boston and Golden State broke that mold. Pretty much everybody played. The Warriors could have used the athleticism and brute force of Jonathan Kuminga (right foot sprain), but they were not down any of their stars. This was the end of the back-to-back Klay Thompson played. (Golden State faces Cleveland on Friday.) Brown not only returned for the Celtics, but he racked up over 41 minutes.
Even the coaches visibly ascribed extra meaning to this game.
Steve Kerr went eight-deep with the Warriors rotation while opting to downsize the starting lineup by inserting Poole for Kevon Looney. Joe Mazzulla didn't try to steal more time with Grant Williams or Luke Kornet on the floor than he reasonably could, and despite resting Horford to begin the extra frame, he still ran out the 36-year-old for more than 37 minutes, his third-highest total of the season.
That the end result lived up to the emotional attachment to the outcome makes it all the more sweeter.
This matchup vacillated between chaotic sloppiness and complete and utter brilliance. Sometimes, they were rolled into one. Steph's buzzer beater was preceded by, like, 80 turnovers in four seconds.
But that's part of the Celtics-Warriors charm—just like it was during the Finals. The manner in which everything unfolds is equal parts maddening and confusing and, somehow, telltale. And it leaves us to ruminate on bigger-picture questions and developments for both teams.
The Celtics hemorrhaged familiar imperfection for most of Thursday night. They committed 17 total turnovers, including six in the second and five in the fourth, many of them unforced. They shot under 32 percent from deep (13-of-41), largely on higher-quality looks, including a ghastly 8-of-30 clip (26.7 percent) through the first three quarters.
They left too many points at the foul line. Derrick White disappeared on offense. Brown and Tatum combined to shoot 6-of-27 from the floor through three frames. The game would've been over long before it actually ended if not for the frontline's offensive rebounding.
Yet, at the same time, the Celtics churned out proof of growth.
Tatum didn't finish with the most efficient line (seven turnovers) or look great on defense for most of the game, but he still spit out 34 points and six assists while making frequent trips to the charity stripe (12-of-12). His capacity to keep driving, even if he gets too deep downhill, and finding ways to score amid off-shooting nights from the perimeter is huge.
The Warriors continue to look like they have the Celtics figured out. Boston can't hang with a lot of their off-ball movement on offense, and they really know how to get into Tatum and Brown at the defensive end.
Starting Poole over Looney yielded mixed results. The starting five shot over 40 percent from three and kept the Celtics defense on perpetual tilt, but they were still outscored in their minutes on floor while allowing Boston to board over 30 percent of its own misses.
In the end, you're left to juggle warring impressions. You have to appreciate the Warriors making, by their standards, a proactive adjustment—and planning to stick with it, at least a little while longer:
You also can't help but roll your eyes and cringe as the same old shortcomings rear their heads.
Careless turnovers still dog the Warriors. And their defensive rebounding is a legitimate concern. They are average on the glass at their very best and friendly-fire roadkill at their very worst. The Celtics exited Thursday night having rebounded almost 36 percent of their own misses.
The structure of the Warriors' loss evokes all sorts of emotions. They controlled much of the game and, in many ways, seemed to defeat themselves (turnovers). Do they, as currently and fallibly constructed, have a championship gear? Or do they need to an injection of size and athleticism and, perhaps, secondary creation that only the trade market can provide?
And if the roster configuration necessitates change, do they have the gall and faith in this timeline to make it, even if said transaction comes at the expense of prospects or picks?
Similar questions apply to the Celtics. Their secondary bigs aren't readily playable in certain matchups, including this one. Intermittent vanishing acts from White and Malcolm Brogdon are unsettling, and Sam Hauser's shooting regression looms (as does his "DNP - Coach's Decision").
Do the Celtics need a midseason move for another big or perimeter alternative? Do they even have a meaningful addition in them? Or are they better off standing pat, knowing they probably won't land someone who definitively cracks the top seven or eight of their rotation?
These two teams are fascinating, both as opponents and independent of one another. But their performance on Thursday reinforced what, even if deep down, we already knew.
Left untouched, the Celtics and Warriors are a perfect high-stakes matchup—a mixture of similarities and contrasts that, their conference fates permitting, still make for an ideal Finals showdown.