At the start of the 2018-19 season, many predicted the Boston Celtics would face off against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
20 games into the season, the Celtics sat at a mediocre 10-10 with questions looming about Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and the team as a whole. The Warriors ran into their own problems when Stephen Curry suffered a groin injury that cost him 11 games.
Boston rattled off eight consecutive wins after their .500 start but hit a rough patch a few weeks back before a statement win over the Toronto Raptors. Golden State picked up right where they left off when Curry returned, and now that DeMarcus Cousins is back, watch out.
That brings us to the first matchup of the season between the two teams and each side is nearly exactly where they want to be. The Celtics have rattled off five wins in a row and the Warriors have won nine games in a row.
More importantly for this contest, the Celtics are riding a 10-game winning streak at the TD Garden while the Warriors have won eight straight on the road.
In an era where Golden State has seemingly dominated everyone, Boston has always been there to give them a hard time. And there have been some battles in this series.
Who could forget when Isaiah Thomas and company had the 23-0 Warriors against the ropes at the TD Garden in 2015? The Celtics took them to double overtime, falling just short of handing them their first loss of the season - which they suffered the next night on a back-to-back.
I.T. and the Celtics got their revenge later that season, defeating Golden State at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors are 5-3 versus the Celtics in the Steve Kerr era (2014-present), but the teams are 3-3 in their past six meetings dating back to that double overtime game. Since the Warriors added Kevin Durant to the mix, it has been an even 2-2 split.
Durant scored 23 to beat Boston on their home floor in his first game against the Celtics as a member of the Warriors. That same season, Thomas stepped up with 25 points against the Warriors on the road to avenge that loss.
The next season, the Celtics held Curry to nine points to beat the Warriors in a defensive battle in Boston. But Curry dropped 49 points at Oracle later that year to earn the win, outdueling Irving's 37 points.
So what do the Celtics do differently than other teams to contain the Warriors? They play great team defence and force the Warriors to play at their pace.
In Boston's last two wins over Golden State, they held them to 86 and 88 points, respectively.
In the Kerr era, the Warriors have only been held under the 90-point mark 14 times. Their record in those games? 2-12.
Of those games, only the Celtics and San Antonio Spurs have accomplished this feat more than once. What makes this so ridiculous is the fact that Boston has only faced the Warriors eight times since 2014. (The Spurs have faced them 15 times in that span).
Head coach Brad Stevens loves to utilize his team's versatility in each matchup against Golden State. They play switch-heavy defence for four quarters and slow down the pace to try and make the Warriors play a half-court style of basketball - each of their last four meetings have had under 100 total possessions.
The Warriors have played three games with Cousins in the lineup and they have averaged 104.7 possessions in those games, a slight uptick from their 101.9 possessions per game this season.
If the Celtics want to continue to give the Warriors problems, they'll have to do exactly what they've done in the past - slow it up on offence, play physical defence and make the game as ugly as possible.
That's a lot easier said than done, though, as the Warriors have the best offensive rating in the NBA (115.7 points per 100 possessions) this season. Even scarier: Golden State is better offensively on the road, boasting a 116.5 offensive rating, a full five points better than the next closest team.
Their plus-7.3 net rating on the road is the best in the league as well, further proving how hard it is to beat this team no matter the location.
If the Warriors win this contest, it will be their eighth double-digit win streak in the Kerr era. That would be two-times the amount of the next closest team in that span. (The Houston Rockets are next, with four double-digit win streaks).
Last season, Kerr called the Celtics 'the future of the East' - he was reminded of that this past week when The Athletic's Anthony Slater asked him about his current thoughts, "I remember that," Kerr stated. "...I still feel that way, but they're not alone."
Can Boston continue their NBA-best home win streak or will the Warriors ride their NBA-best road win streak?