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Warriors punish Celtics for frigid start to Game 5, move to cusp of title

NBA Finals, Game 5: Warriors 104, Celtics 94

Klay Thompson and the Warriors defeated the Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to move to the cusp of their fourth title in eight years. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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SAN FRANCISCO — At times in these NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors’ offense has felt like a one-man show, with Stephen Curry handling the vast majority of the scoring and playmaking duties. Never was that sensation more apparent than in Friday’s Game 4, when Curry delivered a 43-point masterpiece to lift Golden State to a road win over the Boston Celtics.

But the Warriors have always preached the importance of collective strength, and they seized control of the Finals for the first time Monday because Curry’s teammates combined to carry their franchise player through a rare quiet showing.

Golden State defeated Boston, 104-94, in Game 5 at Chase Center, taking advantage of the Celtics’ frigid first quarter and disjointed fourth quarter to grab a 3-2 series lead. With the victory, Golden State moved to the cusp of its fourth title in the past eight seasons. Game 6 is Thursday night in Boston.

For Curry, it was a stunning, history-making performance: For the first time in his 133-game postseason career, he failed to make a three-pointer. Indeed, the two-time MVP finished with just 16 points on 7-for-22 shooting, and he missed all nine of his three-point attempts. Curry had made a three-pointer in 233 consecutive games, including the regular season, dating back to a Nov. 8, 2018 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Steph was probably due for a game like this,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s been shooting the ball so well. But we’ve got a lot of talent and depth to make up for that. The key to the game was our defense. To hold that [Celtics] team to 94 points, that’s what it takes to win.”

Golden State triumphed anyway thanks to strong performances from forward Andrew Wiggins, who tallied 26 points and 13 rebounds, and its bench, which outscored Boston’s 31-10. Klay Thompson added 21 points, hitting five three-pointers to help boost the Warriors past the Celtics, who failed to conjure offensive rhythm for long stretches.

'It’s something I’ve dreamed about, for sure," said Wiggins, who is playing in his first Finals with the Warriors following a 2020 trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. “This is the ultimate stage. it doesn’t get bigger than this. I was out there being aggressive. We all support each other, and we want to see each other do good and succeed. That’s why we’re here.”

After sputtering down the stretch of its Game 4 loss Friday, Boston’s offense was even worse to open Game 5.

Jayson Tatum set an ominous tone by tossing the ball out of bounds on the Celtics’ first possession, setting up a dreadful quarter filled with careless turnovers and tentative shot attempts. Boston fell behind 24-8 and shot 8 for 23 from the field in the quarter as its perimeter attack ran cold. All told, the Celtics missed their first 12 three-point attempts in their flattest stretch of offense in these Finals.

“Our force, our pressure, our help was there all the time,” Kerr said. “We just didn’t allow a lot of openings. Our rotations were good, and we flew out to shooters. It was a great effort, but we’ve got to rev it back up and do it again.”

Boston did its best to make up for its slow start by briefly grasping control in the third quarter. The Celtics made five straight three-pointers to open the second half, riding a 19-4 start to the third quarter to take its first lead midway through the period. Tatum, who finished with a game-high 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and four assists, hit back-to-back three-pointers to key Boston’s best stretch of the night.

It wasn’t enough. Golden State reclaimed the lead at the end of the third period with a deep three-pointer from Jordan Poole and pushed ahead to start the fourth. At several moments in the final period, the Celtics appeared to crack under the pressure. With a little over nine minutes remaining, Marcus Smart was whistled for a technical foul and an offensive foul in quick succession. Later, Draymond Green and Tatum engaged in a jostling match in front of the Celtics bench.

“Poor start overall,” Celtics Coach Ime Udoka said. “That’s hard to explain why that is. But we got back in. Early in the game, they were the aggressor on defense, blowing up some of our actions. Our spacing wasn’t the best due to that. ... Our decision-making waned a little bit in the fourth.”

Remarkably, the Celtics had the same number of turnovers (four) as field goals in the fourth. Udoka suggested that fatigue could have been a factor, as he leaned heavily on his starters, who exerted significant energy in mounting their third-quarter comeback.

“I had a couple shots that were short," said Tatum, who shot 10 for 20 on the night but made just one of his five attempts in the fourth quarter. “I’ve just got to not fade as much. You’re going to be a little more tired in the fourth than you are in the first quarter. You’ve got to get your legs a little more under you on a couple of those shots to give yourself a chance.”

By night’s end, the Celtics were once again forced to deal with the consequences of their chronic turnover problems. Boston committed 18 turnovers and fell to 0-7 in this postseason when it turns the ball over at least 16 times. Jaylen Brown accounted for five of the giveaways during an uneven night in which he scored 18 points on 5-for-18 shooting.

“[The Warriors] are a really good defensive team,” Brown said. “Disciplined and sound. They’ve forced us to do what we don’t do best. Another game with too many turnovers. It cost us. Your faith has got to be at an all-time high. We’ve got to play as a team, as a unit. All season long, it’s been us versus everybody. I look at it as no different now. My faith is higher than it’s ever been before.”

While Curry brought home Game 4 with a splendid shooting display in the clutch, the Warriors turned to Wiggins to finish off the Celtics this time. In the decisive sequence, Wiggins scored 10 fourth-quarter points and threw down a thunderous dunk that proved to be the dagger. Though Wiggins is a relative newcomer, Thompson said that the Warriors never “gets more excited than when Wiggs dunks on somebody.”

“That trust [in Wiggins] has been building for 2½ years since he got here,” Green said. “He competes. He defends. He’s taken on every challenge. It’s huge. We need him to do that for one more win.”

Boston now finds itself facing elimination in its third straight series after digging out of a 3-2 hole against the Bucks in the second round and winning a Game 7 over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Yet the Celtics also found themselves in uncharted waters as they fell to 7-1 in these playoffs after a loss. Responding well after tough defeats had become their trademark, and now the Celtics must contend with the possibility that this series — and their first championship since 2008 — has slipped from their grasp.

“[My] track record says I’ll shoot better the next game,” Curry said. “I’m looking forward to that bounce back. I’m not afraid to go 0 for whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier after an 0 for whatever night. One more win. We’ve got to figure out how to get it done.”

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