For the first time in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are a game up on the scorecards.
After handing the Celtics back-to-back losses for the first time all postseason, the Dubs have an opportunity to clinch their fourth title in eight years back in Boston.
Supporting Cast Steps Up
The Warriors were heavily reliant on the brilliance of Steph Curry through the first four games. On Monday night, it was the other guys who compensated for the shooting struggles of the two-time MVP. Fresh off of arguably his greatest Finals performance, the Celtics made sure to give Curry their undivided attention in Game 5, primarily face-guarding him and often assigning two defenders to slow him down. While that did cause Curry to shoot 0-9 from three-point range and 7-22 from the field, it forged a path for other Warriors to shine offensively
Andrew Wiggins was outright phenomenal in this one, his impact felt equally on both sides of the floor. It is no easy task to carry the label of “primary defender on Jayson Tatum,” but to excel in that role and provide the offensive spark that the Warriors so desperately needed is a testament to Wiggins’ complete transformation. The Canadian was resented during his tenure in Minnesota for his inefficiency and wavering motor. Now, he has embraced his new role and become the second-best player on a championship team.
After his mother came out and criticized her son’s poor play, Draymond Green got back to doing what Draymond Green does. Through four games it was clear that Green was rattled and that was reflected in his play. On Monday night, he made it his mission to leave his imprint on the contest from the tip. Green was a defensive irritant both at the point of attack and in help position, darting in to clog up driving lanes for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and waving his limbs in the air on closeouts to dissuade shot attempts off of kick-outs. He was also much-improved in transition, pushing the pace and looking for his shot while setting the table for easy finishes at the rim.
The Warriors starters shot a combined 5-30 from three-point range – All 5 makes came from Klay Thompson. He got off to a dreadful start in the first two games of the series but has since then flipped the switch on both sides of the ball. His biggest improvement has been his shot selection, though Thompson’s individual defense has been especially noteworthy. Some strong performances from Jaylen Brown would elicit some questions about Thompson’s post-injury defense, but the five-time All-Star has responded with some stellar coverage as of late. Thompson has been the catalyst for some crucial Celtic turnovers in the half-court and his on-ball defense has stymied the Celtics’ ability to generate quality paint touches. With Game 6 impending, a vintage “Game 6-Klay” performance would be a poetic ending to an emotional rollercoaster of a season.
Jordan Poole added just the right amount in this one, scoring 14 points in 14 minutes off the bench. He also sprinkled in some magic on yet another half-court heave to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
The Warriors deserve their praise for limiting the Celtics to a subpar night offensively, but it goes without saying that many of the Celtics’ Game 5 woes were self-inflicted. The Celtics attempted 31 free throws compared to Golden State’s 15, but only converted on 67% of their opportunities. The turnover battle was also a huge factor in Monday night’s outcome, the Celtics coughing up 18 while Golden State limited themselves to only 6. Refereeing was regrettably a talking point but the Celtics simply left too much food on the table.
Be that as it may, the Warriors’ connectivity on defense is what led to a pivotal victory. Outside of the first few minutes of the third quarter, the Celtics would never establish a flow offensively and at times looked flat-out lost. From Game 1 of these Finals, the Celtics’ calling card has been seeking out and exploiting favorable matchups. Through four games, the Warriors mostly obliged, giving up switches rather easily and offering exaggerated help defense to back up their guards. This time around, the Dubs reverted to the show-and-recover strategy they employed against Luka Doncic in the Western Conference finals. That changeup along with a high level of off-ball activity and physicality would garner much more defensive success in Game 5.
The Strategy Against Steph
Much was made of the Celtics’ strategy of playing a quasi-drop defense against the greatest shooter of all time. Game 5 showcased exactly why they chose to stick with that strategy. The Celtics’ blueprint is designed to allow Curry to function as the main source of scoring, making it difficult for the supporting guys to find a rhythm and impact the game. After Curry’s Game 4 explosion, the Celtics decided to switch things up. This allowed the Warriors to revive their identity: Playing off of Curry’s off-ball gravity and utilizing post splits, pin-downs, and backdoor cuts to open things up. Warriors basketball in its truest form.