The common mistake of any playoff series, including the NBA Finals, is to think that something is over before it’s time. The ecstasy of recent triumph, combined with the hyperbole of erupting social media, pushes to conclusions that are often hasty.
The Warriors are about to kill to be new NBA champions. Very sure. As true as saying that the series is not finished yet.
The Celtics lost consecutive games for the first time in these playoffs and the sensations of this Game 5 were mixed. Introduction and ending for oblivion, knot to frame. Every postseason game is a different story, but this one, in particular, was miles away from the previous ones.
Boston, accustomed to always having the compass to control pace and actions, always ran from behind and fell into the funnel of Golden State’s brilliant defense.
“Our backs are against the wall. This is the moment when we have to look each other in the eye and figure things out. We have a chance. It has to be figured out. There is no tomorrow for us,” Al Horford said after the match.
And there are several things that Ime Udoka will have to correct to have a chance to win at TD Garden on Thursday and shift the pressure to Oakland for a potential Game 7.
The first thing Boston should check is turnovers. Yesterday they yielded 18 balls, alarming whichever way you look at it. There is a data from ESPN Stats that indicates that the Celtics are 17-1 when they turn over fewer than 16 balls and 1-7 when they exceed that limit.
And that problem is something that, a priori, looks structural. There is a huge difference in moving the ball and being a point guard. The Celtics lack a natural point guard to control timing on shutdowns and find alternatives when the flowing game gets out of hand, something that clearly happened Monday night with that fateful 0-for-12 3-pointer in the beginning. To be clear: if they don’t score because they’re having a bad night at the rim, there’s no brain that would find an advantage in the game otherwise. At this point, this topic that may seem circumstantial has appeared in Boston with different faces at different times.
With Draymond Green reborn and Andrew Wiggins at All-Star level, Boston succumbed to the masterful defense of Steve Kerr’s men at both ends of the game: the beginning and the end. He managed to stay afloat with Jayson Tatum on fire in the third quarter, but the reality is that when it really mattered, in the closing quarter, Tatum wasn’t up to the task. And this is something that has been happening with the star of the Celtics: yesterday he was 1-5 in field goals in the last quarter and is 5-21 in that period so far in the Finals.
Jaylen Brown has been Two-Face Harvey, with moments of offensive excellence and others, like Monday night, when he seems to have soap on his hands. Each incursion to the hoop in the first quarter was a turnover, near turnover or indirect turnover, for forced passing it to a teammate for a shot as possible, for shooting off axis or for not thinking before making a decision direction to the key In this kind of games these details make the difference.
The irregularity of the Celtics is something to work on in these hours before Game 6. Take a look at this fact: the 0-12 triples are the most failed attempts in the beginning of a game in the history of the NBA Finals, but the eight triples consecutive games that came after are the most by a team in NBA Finals history. A real madness.
Another issue to review is free throws. The Celtics felt the pressure and hostility of the Warriors fans. There is no doubt about it. They shot 21-31 from the line (67.7%), an unforgivable number for a game like this. Surely with the scoresheet in hand, Udoka’s assistants will hit their heads against the wall, because Boston not only had these numbers but also failed to win the game despite the fact that the Warriors shot 9-40 on 3-pointers (22.5%), including an unusual 0-9 by Stephen Curry.
“We’ve been in this situation before. It’s not over. We need to win Thursday. And that’s the only thing we need to worry about,” Tatum said.
The Celtics need to be the Celtics again. Defend better and attack fluid above all things. Take care of the ball, which is the most precious thing in this game. And show up when it matters. Hard? Sure. Impossible? No way. If they manage to feed on the green energy that allowed them to be the best team in the NBA at times, if they manage to win the game that doesn’t have tomorrow, then we will have the most beautiful words that exist in this sport: Game 7.
And there, in that scenario, the pressure will be from Golden State. The bell hasn’t rung yet.
The best, as we always say, is yet to come.
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Not so fast: The Celtics aren’t done yet