There may still be hope for the Boston Celtics. But their best chance of getting another flag is a thing of the past.
Of course, yes, of course — if Boston stays at home in Game 6 on Thursday night, then goes back to San Francisco, and then hits a W at home against the Warriors in Game 7 on Sunday night, then from technical Speaking of which, they can still win this series.
However, they found themselves on the verge of being eliminated as they betrayed the surge of resilience and star-crushing defense that got them here. Closing and pushing past, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler were impressive victories. Dealing with Stephen Curry — and the real, brutal, rare, surprising effects of trying to win an NBA championship — is something else entirely.
Call it stress. Call it fear. Call it the moment that separates genius from winner, professional from champion. Whatever it was, it beat the Celtics in the last two games, just as Curry did.
Especially in Game 4, the Warriors provided the Celtics with a win on the silver plate. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and their teammates simply can’t take it.
Just like in Game 4, the Celtics went into the fourth quarter of Game 5 after an intense back-and-forth, trailing by just one point. Unlike Game 4, however, Curry didn’t stand out and beat them single-handedly. They do it well to themselves.
In Game 4, Boston was up 3-1 in a series, which could mean. Then Curry came along, and we were sitting at 2-2 on the other side of the Warriors’ 17-3 end that game. beautiful. The series is still very good. Playing against the GOAT means you may have to deal with those big shows; the key is how to get through it. But the Game 5 loss came with Curry’s lethality: 16 points, 0-for-9 from the 3-point line, and no hero in the fourth quarter.
Curry may have beaten them a few days ago, but that’s just the Celtics, once again, nervous, nervous and uncertain, beating themselves. They had four turnovers in the fourth quarter. They shot 27 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc. Tatum and Brown teamed up on 2-for-9 shooting. They broke.
To win the next two games, they need to do more than beat the Warriors and its all-time greats. The Celtics will have to overcome some of their own problems, having turned the best team in the NBA into a shell of their own in the fourth quarter of their final two games.
Compared to the Warriors who have competed for and won NBA championships in the past, their defeat was against a different type of Warriors team — a smaller team.
No Kevin Durant can save the Warriors on Curry’s night off. Klay Thompson oscillates between mediocre and good, and Draymond Green oscillates between bad and so-so. Jordan Poole went back to looking a lot like the G League for a long time. Sure, Andrew Wiggins is doing great, but if you can’t beat a team in the NBA Finals on a night where Wiggins is the best player, you could be in big trouble.
Curry is Curry, yes, except for his uncharacteristic rest on Monday. But Curry has historically responded to poor playoff games with an efficient, glorious offense.
“Right now, it’s good for us,” Green said after the game, having read the story before. “He’s 0-for-9 from 3. He’s going to be pissed going into Game 6, and that’s what we need.”
You can study a lot of Xs and Os, and the sheer numbers speak to the large sample sizes and statistical realities of these two teams. Boston can and should have some game plans to replicate what they did well in the long series they should have won, etc.
But as two-time NBA champion Isiah Thomas told me, all of those things go away when the pressure goes all the way up to the max. “The pressure is real,” he said. “Some players, some great players, can handle it. Some can’t.”
But the real answer to how Boston won this game is simple and twofold: Don’t let Curry beat you, and don’t beat yourself.
First: good luck. As I’ve written, Curry is likely to end his career as an all-time top-five player, an often underrated talent who got his due long after the fact. But he was the best player on the field in this series, he proved he could win a game single-handedly if he had to, and in Game 5, his teammates started to provide the kind of help he could have used all the time. As Green said, Curry is going to be pissed off Thursday night, and he’s going to be dangerous.
But the second point explains why this series feels like it’s over: If they get closer to a championship, the faster they disappear, no team can win it. The Celtics’ moments at the end of the paint were filled with nervousness, worry and poor play — turning the ball over, hitting hot potatoes, and lacking stars willing to seize the moment.
Tatum has been out for most of this series. Brown had a couple of lackluster second halves. Marcus Smart doesn’t fill that void. You can only ask Al Horford and Derrick White to save in the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals once — and it once felt like too much.
The Celtics had a chance on Thursday night, as head coach Ime Udoka pointed out, they were in this exact spot earlier in the playoffs against last year’s champion Milwaukee Bucks, going 3-2. Fall behind and face elimination.
But playoff basketball is about tweaking, and Boston needs to do what we haven’t seen them do: the ability to seize a series in the strongest hopes and fears, when something as rare as a championship is present yourself.
We’ve seen enough to know that Stephen Curry can. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics are still trying to figure out how to match him when it matters most.