SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors won Game 4 because Stephen Curry was an unstoppable force.
In Game 5, Curry looked mortal — 0-of-9 from 3, breaking his 132-game playoff streak with at least one made 3.
The Warriors won anyway thanks to a tremendous defensive effort, plenty of depth, and building up of role players to be ready for these moments. That’s particularly true of Andrew Wiggins, who was the best player on the floor in a Finals game.
“I thought Gary Payton and Wiggs and Draymond [Green] really keyed our defensive effort to hold that team to 94 points,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s what it takes to win a Finals game. It’s got to be about the defense.”
And about the poise to play in pressure-packed moments. The Celtics flipped the script on this series and dominated the third, erasing a 12-point Warriors lead at the half and taking the lead. The Warriors responded — including another Jordan Poole buzzer-beater.
JP DID IT AGAIN 🚨 pic.twitter.com/elZ9r2CXrf
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) June 14, 2022
“I thought that was the most important part of the game tonight because we had a 12-point lead at the half, and they came and just stormed right through us in that third quarter…” Kerr said. “But the response to Boston’s run to me was the key to the game.”
That game ended with a 104-94 Warriors win that has the Warriors up 3-2 in the NBA Finals, one win away from another title. Game 6 is Thursday in Boston.
Wiggins continued his narrative-changing playoff run scoring 26 points with 13 rebounds and another night of physical defense on Jayson Tatum. He never lived up to the pressure of being a No. 1 pick or the weight of a franchise on his shoulders in Minnesota, but asked to share the load with other elite perimeter players in Golden State, he has thrived.
“I feel like being here, it’s a winning culture,” Wiggins said. “They have won before, and they have dominated the NBA. When I got here, they put you in position to succeed. They always bring out the best in you. They want the best for you. You know, supportive.”
Golden State was more physical from the opening tip, playing more intense defense than it had all series, and that stalled out the Boston offense early.
At the same time, the Celtics did a much better job on Curry, not just being up on him out high but also bringing help and not losing him when he relocated after giving it up. The Celtics’ defense deserves some credit for Curry shooting 7-of-22.
From Game 1, Celtics coach Ime Udoka’s plan was let Curry have some buckets so defenders could stay home on other players and take away the off-ball motion and passing where the Warriors thrive. That had to change after Curry dropped 43 in Game 4, but Udoka’s concerns proved valid.
“But we have to do it on the others,” Ime Udoka said of the Celtics’ defense on Curry. “Anytime you got Wiggins with 26, [Klay] Thompson with 21, [Gary] Payton and [Jordan] Poole off the bench 15, 14, they’re kind of making up for some of the things he was doing.”
Udoka couldn’t trust the Celtics’ bench that same way. Tatum and Brown played the entire third quarter and finished the game with 45 and 44 minutes played, respectively. Their legs seemed a little dead at the end, with some of Tatum’s shots in the fourth hitting the front of the rim.
“We ran them obviously a longer stretch to get back in the game in the third,” Udoka said. “Looked like our decision making waned a little bit in the fourth. Could have been from that. Weren’t getting a whole lot of production off the bench. Went with them a little bit longer, being they got us back in, and tried to use the timeouts for their rest.”
Tatum finished with 27 points, Smart 20 and Brown 18. Boston had just 10 bench points, and six of those came in garbage time in the final minutes.
Boston heads home knowing they need a win to extend their season. While they didn’t play with poise under pressure in Game 5, they also have won two Game 7s to reach these Finals. The Celtics have responded to pressure, but they must do it again.
Golden State heads into Game 6 knowing how Stephen Curry responds to off nights.
“He was 0-for-9 from three,” Green said. “He’s going to be livid going into Game 6, and that’s exactly what we need.”