It’s probably not a great sign for the Celtics’ dwindling 2022 championship hopes that they couldn’t even win the worst long-range shooting game of Steph Curry’s playoff career.
In 132 postseason games entering Monday’s crucial Finals Game 5, Curry had always made at least one 3-pointer. The NBA’s career 3-point king was in unsurprisingly rarefied air here. His 132-game streak was more than double the next-best mark in NBA history: Klay Thompson’s 54-game streak, which stretched from June 2017 through last month.
But on Monday, fresh off a stupendous, 43-point performance in Game 4 and toting a 49 percent 3-point mark in the series, Curry finally hit an unprecedented game-long slump. Open 3s spun out, contested triples clanked off the rim, and the two-time MVP ended the night 0-for-9 from distance, with just 16 total points representing his lowest total in the Finals since 2018.
Yet after letting their shiniest star carry them to a 2-2 series tie, Curry’s teammates picked up his slack in Game 5. Paced by Andrew Wiggins, Thompson, and a couple resurgent reserves, the Warriors seized on their home-court advantage to win the game, 104-94, and move one win away from yet another title.
With Curry doing his best—and first-ever—John Starks impression, all the Warriors’ best statistics and highlights came from a handful of key role players. Wiggins led the way from start to finish, posting a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds in the first half, while converting a variety of two-point looks: layups, putbacks, and turnaround midrange jumpers when the Warriors needed someone to create late in the shot clock.
And while the former no. 1 pick went scoreless in the third quarter, as Boston poured in a hail of 3-pointers to briefly take the lead, Wiggins stormed back with 10 more points in the fourth. With a final tally of 26 points and 13 rebounds, Wiggins posted a robust double-double for the second consecutive game—including his two highest rebounding totals in any playoff game this year. The final exclamation point came courtesy of a driving dunk with two minutes and change remaining, as Wiggins summed up all his game aggression and self-creation in one dynamic bucket. Ten of his 12 made shots came in the paint.
But Wiggins wasn’t alone in taking Curry’s scoring role in Game 5. Thompson chipped in 21 points and five made 3-pointers, including a pair of run-stopping triples when Boston threatened to break open the game in the third quarter. Thompson’s shooting was especially important on a night when the other Warriors were misfiring; even an otherwise resplendent Wiggins missed all six of his long-range attempts. In fact, Thompson made more 3-pointers (five) on 11 attempts than all his teammates made combined (four) on 29 total tries.
One of those non-Thompson makes produced the game’s greatest highlight, however, because the Warriors’ bench also came to play Monday night. Golden State’s reserves outscored the Celtics’ by a margin of 31-10, with both Gary Payton II (15 points) and Jordan Poole (14) giving the Warriors a much-needed boost when Curry sat. Poole’s buzzer-beating bank shot to end the third quarter, which left his fingertips with approximately 0.00000000005 seconds remaining, gave Golden State the lead entering the final frame …
… and the Warriors pounced from there, opening the fourth with a 10-0 run that all but clinched the game. Notably, Curry was off the floor for that entire 10-0 stretch, but Wiggins, Thompson, and Poole all made shots in his stead. Through four games, it seemed improbable that the Warriors could score any points, let alone double-digits, with Curry on the bench; he was their offensive alpha and omega, at times seemingly the only player capable of creating an open shot, and he was often resorting to sinking 30-foot contested jumpers when “open” looks weren’t possible.
Yet even a player with Curry’s superb skills and transcendent track record couldn’t realistically hope to maintain a 49 percent 3-point mark indefinitely, especially against the league’s best defense. The Warriors probably didn’t expect him to revert all the way to the mean in one ugly game. (Curry is down to 42 percent for the series now, which just happens to be in line with his 43 percent career regular-season figure.) They almost certainly wouldn’t have expected to survive such a game if he did.
But with Wiggins stepping up in the most important game of his NBA career, and with Thompson ensuring at least one of the Brothers would Splash, and with Poole and Payton effectively picking their spots when the Warriors went small, Golden State had enough offense to compensate for Curry’s off night. The team’s defense did the rest, holding Boston to just 94 points: In each of the Celtics’ two wins this series, they scored at least 116 points; in their three losses, they didn’t even crack 100.
And now they must rue the squandered opportunity, because just as the odds were against Curry continuing to connect on half his 3s, they’re just as sure he won’t go 0-fer again in Game 6, on Thursday in Boston. He never has before in the playoffs, after all. The Celtics can still win this series—they’ve already come back from 3-2 once in these playoffs—but now they’ve lost their entire margin for error, because they couldn’t even win the worst-shooting playoff game of Curry’s career.