NBA

Warriors vs Celtics: Nine games that explain Golden State’s decisive Game 5 victory in the 2022 NBA Finals

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The Golden State Warriors are one win away from a championship. In a way, their victory in Game 5 was precisely the opposite of their victory in Game 4 – after Stephen Curry turned on TD Garden for 43 points on 14 for 26 shooting on Friday, he only scored 16 points on 7 for 22 shooting at Chase Center in their 104-94 win Monday. In another way, it was extremely similar – the Warriors won by 10 points, shut down the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter, and overcame an ineffective offensive performance.

Here are nine games that explain game 5:

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1. Hey man, great start

In the first four games of the NBA Finals, Golden State gradually angled its offense toward Curry by running high pick-and-rolls. It did, however, start Game 5 with the classic Warriors move. Curry hands the ball to Otto Porter Jr., then cuts along the baseline, with Al Horford’s face guarding it. When Porter slips a screen, there is no rim protection, as Robert Williams III keeps the ball and Horford is concerned about Curry:

The Celtics have done a fantastic job defending Golden State’s off-ball actions, but that doesn’t mean coach Steve Kerr is going to default to static pick-and-rolls. The Warriors want to force Boston to manage multiple plays because every play requires defenders to think and communicate.

The game’s first possession provided a tidy microcosm of the battle that unfolds every time Golden State has the ball. Defending the Warriors is exhausting, and they believe that if they keep running, the opponent will eventually wear themselves out. Scoring against the Celtics is exhausting, and they believe that if they are locked in and limit their mistakes, the opponent will eventually wear themselves out. Here, Golden State beat the switch with a slip, but Draymond Green had to place his pass perfectly and Porter had to hit the layup on the outstretched arms of Jayson Tatum.

That bucket was the start of a 14-4 Warriors run in which Curry scored just two runs.

2. Simple game

In Boston’s series opener, Tatum had 13 assists and Horford had six 3s. In Game 3, the Celtics’ other win, Tatum had nine assists and they actually targeted Curry . This possession late in the second quarter, which ended with a Horford 3 kickout from Tatum, illustrates what has worked offensively for Boston in this series:

Tatum went into the paint with good spacing around him, crumbled the defense, tricked Andre Iguodala into thinking he was passing Jaylen Brown in the corner and hit Horford for an open 3. Boston’s problem is that it hasn’t happened enough. It was only the Celtics’ second 3-pointer of the game – they missed their first 12 – and Tatum finished with four assists. It is no coincidence that his other assists all came in the third quarter, the one they dominated.

“When we’re at our best, it’s a simple ball movement,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “I think the third quarter showed that.

3. As they drew it

Here’s a deeply odd sequence: After a double team on Tatum and a steal, Curry refuses to take a pull-up 3 in transition, perhaps spooked by Robert Williams III behind him. He gives the ball to Green, who sends a left pass to Klay Thompson on the opposite side. Thompson attacks the Horford fence, then goes into an outrageous one-legged runner on Williams from, oh, 17 feet or so? Watch Green’s reaction when this enters:

Thompson finished with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 5-for-11 from deep. It’s an objectively ridiculous shot to take in any NBA game, let alone Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but it’s Thompson, so it wasn’t shocking when he came in.

Why did I include this? Because the Warriors had nine steals against Boston’s two, and five of those Golden State steals led directly to buckets at the other end. (The other four: three missed pull-ups from Curry and a grab foul.) We’ve seen this before.

4. Surprise yourself!

The Celtics haven’t completely changed the way they defend Curry, but they have become selectively more aggressive. Here they throw him a surprise double team, but Curry calmly gets Tatum out of the way, keeps probing and finds Gary Payton II for a layup with a clean pass and a left:

It’s my favorite of Curry’s eight assists, and it shows why the Celtics have been reluctant to put two on the ball against him. He missed all nine of his 3-pointers, but still left his mark on the game.

“He’s just using that aggression against them,” Curry said. “Getting into the paint. The fact, you know, I don’t know if I have more than five assists in the first four games, and that total is going up, and we still left a lot there because we have different ways to attack you, even if it’s not me just trying to chase shots. And using gravity, using ball movement, all that kind of stuff to do normal Warriors basketball. is just a matter of feeling.And obviously never losing your aggressiveness even if you’re not making shots like you normally do.

5. It’s a quick Pause

After falling behind by five, the Warriors made a series of transition plays late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to regain momentum. You probably remember Jordan Poole cashed, buzzer-beating 3but here’s another one that will hurt to see in a movie, featuring Green and Payton at full speed:

It’s a terrible Boston transition defense, and it’s emblematic of the Golden State mindset. It wasn’t a Curry game, so he had to grab points any way he could. In this case, that means Green picks up the pace when the Warriors lack the numbers and sends a rebound pass exactly where it needs to go to turn a 2-on-3 break into a two-pointer — at exactly the right time.

“The response to Boston’s run on me was key to the game,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said after the win.

Green talked about playing “forcefully” at virtually every press conference during the Finals. This doesn’t just mean playing physical defense; it means making aggressive plays like this, conjuring up high-percentage scoring opportunities out of thin air against a defense that doesn’t allow many.

6. Hard look

With nine minutes to go and the Warriors on a 13-0 run, Marcus Smart completed a dribble pass with Brown well outside the 3-point line. It was so high that Green, who was guarding Smart, simply went under the screen. Rather than try to get Poole to defend a second action, Brown rated Green one-on-one. He can do this pull-up 3, but it’s not easy:

I understand Green gave Brown some space, but, down 11 points, with 14 on the shot clock, I don’t like that shot. The Celtics had little room for error at this point, so they should have been looking for more of a one-play possession and isolation unless the guy defending that isolation was a weak defender. After hearing Boston lament its “stagnant” late-game offense in the previous game, it was a stark look.

Udoka suggested the fatigue could have affected the team’s decision-making on the stretch.

7. Wiggins saves the day

Thought it was a terrible move by Andrew Wiggins before the shot was fired:

Curry watches Wiggins after the pass, first pointing to Thompson then calling the ball himself. Wiggins has other ideas, taking two dribbles and getting into some sort of right hook against Horford. It seemed overambitious to me, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been – he had already made many contested shots after the rebound, and he would make an almost identical one a few minutes later against Williams.

Wiggins finished with 26 points on 12-for-23 shooting, plus 13 rebounds. He got his points all sorts of ways, not just breaking glass, running the floor, and hitting point 3s. (In fact, he missed all six of his 3-point attempts.) When Curry was cold and the team needed him to bail out a possession, he obliged. What a series he is doing.

“He’s definitely confident,” Kerr said. “He really loves the playoffs. He loves the challenge. He loves the competition. And he’s found such a crucial role in our team, and I think that strengthens him. He knows how much we need him, so he was fantastic.”

8. GPII releases Steph

Up 10 with less than five minutes on the clock, Golden State executed their trusty post splits – Payton passes to Green from the perimeter, then sets a screen for Curry, but this time Curry didn’t use it, cutting rather in the painting, where Green found it for a float:

It’s a great read from Curry with Smart locking him up top, and it’s another perfect pass from Green. But it’s also an example of the Warriors getting used to their opponent — they know Williams is ignoring Payton, which makes him a dangerous filter. And Curry knows Williams anticipates he’ll come off screen on the left side, so the rim protector is only a step or two too far to get to the shot.

9. Not the kind of “strength” you want

Here’s Tatum driving left against Wiggins, recovering his dribble and missing a flip jump over Green:

No overshoot, no projection, nothing. The Warriors are too good defensively for that approach. Maybe it doesn’t matter because there’s little chance Boston is close to erasing a 12-point lead anyway. But it looked hopeless, especially unlike the way Golden State played offensively.

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