The circumstances surrounding Game 5 of the NBA Finals seemed to point towards a Boston Celtics victory, considering that the most dangerous weapon the Golden State Warriors and its best player could throw were taken out of the equation for most of the contest.
For the first time in 133 NBA playoff games, Stephen Curry did not make a three-pointer, ending a streak that also spanned 233 straight regular and postseason games. The Warriors themselves needed almost seven minutes until Klay Thompson knocked down the game’s first three-pointer at the 5:14 mark in the first quarter.
From those alone, it seemed that the Celtics would go home with a 3-2 lead heading back to Boston and yet it was Golden State that came out on top with a 3-2 series lead.
The Warriors’ three-pointers came in trickles, and the Celtics made their first three-pointer when Jayson Tatum converted on his third attempt with 4:34 left in the second quarter. Yet Golden State won the game by taking things inside.
Riding on the momentum from their Game 4 win, the Warriors struck first and hit hard, scoring 27 points in the first quarter mostly off points inside the paint and limiting Boston to under 10 points for almost 10 minutes. The Celtics would rally back at the start of the second half, but turnovers and the continued interior onslaught from Golden State handed Boston rare consecutive losses this postseason.
The Celtics’ defense has been effective when they make the Warriors go for the flashy play and not so much the right one. Whenever Golden State tries to be cute, they tend to relax and give the ball away. In Game 5, Boston was also initially successful in letting the Warriors pass the ball once or twice before attempting a shot, which is the equivalent to a no-pass possession for other teams.
Curry not making a three-pointer certainly did not take away the Celtics’ attention from defending the 3-point line, but they did not adjust to the counters Golden State had. Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green missed all of their 3-point attempts, but combined to make 50 points. Beyond the numbers however, they were able to open things up for Thompson, Jordan Poole, and Gary Payton II, who were responsible for all of the Warriors’ nine three-pointers.
Playing physical defense also doesn’t mean Boston was immune to being on the other end of it, so they should be able to be ready for when Golden State takes it inside. Instead, the Celtics let it get into how they run things in Game 5.
Eighteen turnovers played a part in negating the advantages Boston had in three-pointers, free throws, and fouls called. The Celtics’ offense remains capable when their shots are falling and it was interesting to note that both Boston and the Warriors had three three-pointers each at halftime, with the former eventually winning the battle from behind the 3-point line, 11-9. Losing the ball only doused any momentum especially when the playing field was leveled with the lack of shooting from Golden State’s end. Taking care of the ball would have helped make this a greater factor rather than a what-if.
Foul trouble forced Warriors head coach Steve Kerr to go to his bench early and while that was what partly led to him going 10-man deep by halftime, it also shows he trust he has with his bench as compared to Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, who had an 8-man rotation after two quarters.
It certainly doesn’t do Boston any favors when the bench only had a single point at halftime thanks to a free throw made by Derrick White. The Celtics would eventually finish with 10 bench points, with half of those coming from the free throw line. More production, especially beyond the free throw line, will be welcome especially when it becomes a war of attrition.
Golden State being at home shouldn’t have been much of a factor considering how Boston was the only team to beat the Warriors in their homecourt this season. In fact, both teams have won on each other’s home floor so the next two games are pretty much anyone’s ball game.
It had been three and a half years since Stephen Curry finished a regular or postseason NBA game without a three-pointer. The Boston Celtics know that his off-night in Game 5 was a golden opportunity that will likely not occur again in this series and now head back home with their backs against the wall. All hope is certainly not lost, but they will need to toughen up on both ends of the floor, while minimizing on their own errors, which the Golden State Warriors happily pounced on to move to the brink of an NBA title.