Here are nine reasons why the Celtics could still emerge from a grim situation and find a way to win the NBA title.
1. The Warriors left the light of day in closing games
During these playoffs, Golden State is 0-3 in its first chance to end a series. Those losses ultimately didn’t matter, obviously, because the Warriors are still standing. But it could be an indication that they let go when they have a cushion. The Celtics are the best team Golden State has faced in the playoffs. If the Warriors are unable to win Thursday, they may regret the missed opportunity. Everything is possible in a Game 7, where smooth performance can change everything.
2. The Celtics are aware of their biggest flaw
Boston’s barometer of success is quite simple. The Celtics are 14-2 when committing fewer than 16 turnovers and 0-7 when they don’t. Of course, the team has been aware of this trend for some time and hasn’t always been able to do much about it. But when the stakes were high, Boston was able to refocus and get rid of those issues. He averaged 11.7 turnovers per game in his three playoff wins in those playoffs, and never had more than 14.
3. Robert Williams looks healthy again
The playoffs have been a roller coaster for the talented young center who has battled left knee pain related to his March 30 surgery to repair a torn meniscus. His playing time was limited and he looked rusty as he returned for the final two games of the first-round win over the Nets. He had a setback when he suffered a bone bruise in the semi-finals against the Bucks, and at random times since then has appeared hobbled. But for most of this streak, Williams has looked like the athletic force that has become such an asset to the Celtics this year. In the past two games, he’s passed the 30-minute mark for the first time this playoffs, and he’s shooting 88.9 percent from the field in the series.
4. The defense remained very good
During the regular season, the Celtics’ elite defense allowed just 106.2 points per 100 possessions. In the NBA Finals, against a heavy offense, that number increased slightly to 110.6, which would still have ranked in the top 10 in the NBA during the regular season. Stephen Curry had some masterful performances, but Boston’s wall is barely coming down. And when the effort decreases, it is more visible at this end of the field.
“We defend well enough to win,” coach Ime Udoka said.
5. Has the curry finally cooled down? Maybe?
The Warriors won Game 5 despite Curry missing all nine of his 3-point attempts. It was the first playoff game of his career in which he didn’t make at least one. This could have been an outlier, but what if this is actually the start of a small crisis? The Celtics made a concerted effort to force Curry into defensive actions in Game 5 in an effort to wear him down, and it may have affected him. At 34, he could be feeling tired as this long playoff series draws to a close. He probably won’t go 0 for 9 anymore, but this series would be in a different place if he hadn’t caught fire in the first four games.
6. Jayson Tatum could be warming up
Look, it just hasn’t been a great postseason for Tatum, a first-team All-NBA pick. He basically had two signature moments: his 46-point blowout in Game 6 at Milwaukee and his game-winning, buzzer-beating layup in Game 1 against the Nets. Otherwise, he’s fine. But in Game 5 he shot 10 of 20, his first night shooting at least 50% in the final. And his 3-pointer has looked good throughout the series. If he can convert a tough finish or two early in Game 6 and find some rhythm at the free throw line, there could still be time for his final push. Boston has won its last six games in which Tatum has attempted at least 10 foul shots.
7. Third-quarter disasters could be a thing of the past
In the first four games of this series, the Celtics were thoroughly beaten in the third quarters, outscored by 50.6 points per 100 possessions. The damage was so severe that it probably allowed doubts and unease to set in during half-time. But in the third quarter of Game 5, the Celtics hit six 3-pointers and beat Golden State, 35-24. If nothing else, it shouldn’t be a black cloud anymore.
8. The Celtics are bigger, more athletic and ready to pounce
When Williams is healthy and turnovers are limited, Boston is able to exploit one of their strengths in this game. In Boston’s 16-point Game 3 win, he committed just 12 turnovers, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and scored 22 second-chance points.
9. The road is not intimidating
The Celtics insisted on Wednesday that they weren’t looking past Thursday’s Game 6, and they would certainly be wise not to. But in that case, the considerably bigger hurdle would loom on Sunday, with a potential Game 7 in San Francisco. But the Celtics have already won there once in this series, and are 8-4 on the road in this playoff. These environments do not affect them much.
Adam Himmelsbach can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.