The Golden State Warriors has one win separated from any championship. In a way, their win in Game 5 was exactly the opposite of their win in Game 4 – after Stephen Curry fired TD Garden with 43 points in a 14-for-26 shootout on Friday, he only scored 16 points in a 7-for-22 shootout at Chase’s center in their 104-win 94 on Monday. Put another way, it was very similar – the Warriors won by 10 points, the Boston Celtics closed in in the fourth quarter and overpowered an ineffective offensive performance.
Here are nine plays that explain the fifth game:
1. Oh man, nice start
In the first four games of the NBA Finals, Golden State gradually tilted their attack toward Curry who runs high pickups and rolls. Game 5, started with the classic Warriors action. Curry hands the ball to Otto Porter Jr., then cuts along the baseline, with Al Horford’s face to guard him. When Porter slides off the screen, there is no edge protection, Robert Williams III guards the ball and Horford gets busy with Curry:
The Celtics have done a great job defending Golden State’s off-ball actions, but that doesn’t mean coach Steve Kerr will go for the set pieces. The Warriors want Boston to handle multiple actions because each action requires defenders to think and communicate.
The game’s first possession provided a neat microcosm of the battle that occurs whenever the ball is in possession of Golden State. Defending warriors is exhausting, and they believe that if they keep running their stuff, the opponent will eventually weaken. Scoring against the Celtics is stressful, and they believe that if they are locked up and their errors are limited, the opponent will eventually weaken. Here, Golden State beat the switch with a slip, but Draymond Green had to make a perfect pass and Porter had to hit the ball over Jason Tatum’s outstretched arms.
This bucket was the start of the Warriors’ 14-4 race where Curry only took two points.
2. Simple game
In Boston’s series opener win, Tatum had 13 assists and Horford provided six 3 goals. In Game 3, the Celtics’ other win, Tatum had nine assists and effectively targeted Curry. This takeover late in the second quarter, which ended with Horford’s shot 3 from Tatum, illustrates what has worked for Boston offensively in this series:
Tatum got into the paint with a good distance around, the defense fell, and made Andre Iguodala think he passed Jaylen Brown in the corner and hit Horford for an open 3 goal. Boston’s problem is that this hasn’t happened enough. It was only the Celtics’ third pointer – they missed the first 12 – and Tatum finished with four assists. It’s no coincidence that his other passes all came in the third quarter, which they dominated.
“When we’re at our best, the movement of the ball is simple,” said Boston coach Aimee Odoka. “I think the third quarter showed that. Driving and kicking were beautiful, they were working, getting shots wide open.”
3. Just as they painted it
Here’s a very strange sequence: After a double team on Tatum and a robbery, Curry refuses to do a pull 3 in the transition, perhaps fearing Robert Williams III behind him. He gave the ball to Green, who sent a left pass to Klay Thompson on the other side. Thompson attacks Horford’s approach, then goes to an infamous one-legged runner over Williams from, oh, 17 feet or so? Look at Greene’s reaction when this happens:
Thompson finished with 21 points in 7 for 14, including 5 for 11 from deep. That’s a ridiculous objective shot. To handle it in any NBA game, let alone Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but it’s Thompson, so it wasn’t a shocker when I went in.
Why did you include this? Because the Warriors had nine heists versus two from Boston, and five of those Golden State heists led straight into buckets on the other end. (The other four: Missed three curry draws and a mistake.) We’ve seen this before.
The Celtics didn’t completely change how they defended Curry, but they became selectively more aggressive. Here, they throw a surprising double team at him, but Curry quietly turns away from Tatum, continues the investigation and finds Gary Payton second to throw the ball with a shaky left pass:
This is my favorite of Curry’s eight passes, and it explains why the Celtics were reluctant to put two on the ball against him. He missed all three of his throws, but made his mark in the game.
It’s just using that aggression against them,” Curry said. “Getting into the drawing. The truth is, you know, I don’t know if I’ve had more than five assists in my first four games, and that total goes up, and we still leave a lot in there because we have different ways of attacking you, even if I’m not just trying to catch hits. And by using Gravity, use of ball movement, all that kind of thing for normal warrior basketball practice. It’s just a feeling. And obviously it never loses your aggressiveness even though you’re not taking pictures like you normally do.
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5. This is fast rest time
After trailing by five, the Warriors made a series of transition plays in the late third and early fourth quarters to regain momentum once again. You probably remember Jordan Paul Enter, hit the bell 3but here’s another one that’s a pain to watch in the movie, starring Green and Payton at full speed:
This is a terrible defense of the relocation by Boston, and it is a symbol of the Golden State mentality. This wasn’t Carrie’s game, so she needed to extract points as often as possible. In this case, that means Green pushes the pace when the Warriors don’t have the numbers and sends a rebound pass exactly where it’s needed to turn the 2-on-3 break into two points – just in time.
“Boston’s reaction to me was key to the match,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said after the win.
Green has been talking about playing with “the power” at nearly every press conference during the Finals. This does not simply mean exercising physical defense; This means playing aggressive games like this, and conjuring up high percentage scoring opportunities out of thin air against a defense that doesn’t allow for much of it.
6. Tough look
With nine minutes to go and 13-0, Marcus Smart ran a Brown-style dribbling outside the three-point line. It was so loud that Green, who was guarding Smart, simply went under the screen. Instead of trying to get Paul to defend a second act, Brown did one green size for one. He can make this 3 draw, but it’s not easy:
I get that Green gave Brown some space, but, down 11 points, with 14 on the shot clock, I don’t like this shot. The Celtics had little margin for error at this point, so they should have been looking for more than one act, one seclusion property, unless the guy defending that seclusion was a weak defender. After hearing Boston bemoan their “stagnant” attack in the previous game, this was a tough look.
Odoka suggested that fatigue may have affected the team’s decision-making.
7. Wiggins saves the day
I thought this was a terrible decision by Andrew Wiggins before she even entered the shot:
Curry looks at Wiggins after the pass, pointing first at Thompson and then ordering the ball himself. Wiggins has other ideas, taking two evasions and getting into a right hook of sorts against Horford. It felt too ambitious for me, but maybe he wasn’t – he’d already made several contested shots from the rebound, and would have made a nearly identical one two minutes later against Williams.
Wiggins finished with 26 points on 12-23, plus 13 rebounds. He got his points in all kinds of ways, not just by smashing glass, running the floor and hitting the three points. (In fact, he lost all six of his three-point attempts.) When Curry was cold and the team needed him to save a possession, he was forced. What chain does he have.
“He’s definitely confident,” Kerr said. “He definitely enjoys the knockout matches. He loves a challenge. He loves to compete. He’s found such a crucial role in our team, and I think that’s enabling him. He knows how much we need him, so it’s been great.”
8. GPII releases Steve
After 10 minutes with less than five minutes on the clock, Golden State implemented its trusted post splits – Payton passes to Green from the ocean, then sets a screen for Curry, only this time Curry doesn’t use it, instead cutting into the paint, where Green finds it for a public :
It’s a great read by Curry with Smart shutting it down, and another perfect pass from Green. But it’s also an example of Warriors getting used to their opponent – they know Williams is ignoring Payton, making him a dangerous examiner. Curry knows Williams expects to be out of the screen on the left side, so the edge guard is a step or two too far to get to the shot.
9. Not the kind of “power” you want
Here’s Tatum driving left against Wiggins, picking up his dodge and missing a turning jump over Greene:
No traversal, no screening, nothing. Warriors are very good at defending this approach. It probably doesn’t matter because there’s little chance that Boston is about to erase a 12-point lead anyway. But she felt hopeless, especially in contrast to Golden State’s offensive style.
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