The Celtics stopped Stephen Curry. Everyone else made them pay.
By Tania Ganguli
Inside a gleaming arena experiencing its first NBA Finals run, fans stood and cheered as the game’s final minute approached, perhaps the last home send-off they would get to give before Golden State returned as champion.
Stephen Curry sat on the bench for the last 1 minute, 19 seconds of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, wearing a wide smile, chatting happily with someone nearby.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier after a 0-for-whatever type of night,” Curry said later. He added: “Yeah, there’s a fire burning, and I want to make shots, but the rest of it is about how we win the game. And we did that.”
Reliant on Curry for the first four games of this series against the Boston Celtics, Golden State showed its ability to succeed even when his shot was not working. Monday’s was the first playoff game of Curry’s career in which he did not make at least one 3-pointer. It was also a 104-94 victory that gave Golden State a 3-2 lead in the finals and a chance to win a championship in Boston on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Celtics threw all their effort at slowing Curry after he scored 43 points to beat them in Game 4 on Friday. So in Game 5, everyone else made them pay.
“The fact everybody stepped up — Wiggs, J.P., Klay hit some big shots, Draymond found his life and his spirit and the way he impacts the game,” Curry said.
Wiggs is Andrew Wiggins, who once was called a bust when some thought he could not deliver on the promise of being a No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He scored 26 points for Golden State with 13 rebounds and two steals. He had a block in the first quarter when he smacked the ball away from Celtics guard Jaylen Brown.
J.P. is Jordan Poole, who scored 14 points and banked in a 3-pointer as the third quarter clock expired, then ran to the corner nearest him and roared into the crowd. That basket gave Golden State a 1-point lead after an otherwise disastrous quarter.
Thompson, Curry’s 3-point shooting partner, has been inconsistent in the finals, but made five 3s in Game 5, and scored 21 points.
Draymond Green had a game that Golden State coach Steve Kerr called “brilliant,” after his struggles early in the series caused some to wonder if his pursuits outside basketball were distracting him.
Gary Payton II, the 29-year-old journeyman, scored 15 points for Golden State, making 6 of 8 shots.
“Gary plays bigger than any other 6’2” NBA player I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “His vert and his ability to slide in front of the ball, obviously we know where that came from: from his pops. But his vert is something special, and his improved jump shot has also been a huge weapon for us.”
Curry knew the Celtics were not going to let him get away with what he did to them in Boston again. In the days between Games 4 and 5 he watched film with a dual purpose: He wanted to see what worked so he could try to replicate it. He wanted to anticipate potential adjustments Boston would use to thwart him.
The Celtics did make adjustments and felt good about how they defended Curry in Game 5.
“A little more physical there,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Switched up the coverage a little bit. But we have to do it on the others.”
In talking about how Curry’s teammates made up for his shooting struggles, Curry and Udoka focused on their offensive production. But what mattered more for Golden State was their defense.
They held the Celtics to just 94 points, and scored 22 points off Boston’s 18 turnovers. Payton had three steals, Thompson had two and Green and Curry each had one.
The only quarter in which the Celtics looked better was the third, when they made 6 of 9 3-point attempts, 11 of 19 shots overall, and turned a 16-point deficit into a 5-point lead with 3:55 left in the period.
“They pretty much dominated the entire third quarter,” Green said. “For us to still go into the fourth quarter with the lead, that’s huge. And I think that was something that we could build on, and we did.”
As Golden State regained control of the game, a sense of joyfulness could be seen throughout the team.
When Celtics forward Jayson Tatum knocked over Payton with just under four minutes left in the game, Payton put his palms on the ground and began to do push-ups. With 2:10 left, Wiggins ran past Boston’s Derrick White for a one-handed dunk that sent his teammates and the San Francisco crowd into a frenzy.
“We don’t get more excited than when Wiggs dunks on somebody,” Thompson said. “And that really uplifts the whole team and the Bay Area.”
In the first four games of the finals, Curry averaged 34.3 points a game, and his field-goal percentage was better than 53% in Games 3 and 4 in Boston. He also made 25 3-pointers in those four games and made at least half his 3s in Games 1, 3 and 4.
He had been the most consistent part of Golden State’s attack. After Game 4, Thompson marveled at what Curry accomplished and spoke of wanting to give him some help.
But on Monday, Green, as is his wont, disagreed with what he called the emerging “narrative” that Curry had not had the help he needed this series.
“If he’s got it going, we’re going to be heavy Steph Curry,” Green said. “That’s just what it is. The whole notion of this guy doesn’t, he doesn’t have help, well, you’ve got 43, he’s going to keep shooting, and we’re going to do all that we can to get him shooting it.”
He went on in that vein for a few more sentences before smiling.
“He was 0 for 9 from 3,” Green said. “He’s going to be livid going into Game 6. And that’s exactly what we need.”
Curry said he looked forward to “the bounce back” that his shooting percentage will, seemingly, inevitably get.
When they are at their best, the Warriors can hit you in waves. Stop one and another will come at you.
It has always been this way to some extent. During the first run of their dynasty, back when they played at Oracle Arena in Oakland, one had to contend with Curry, Green, Thompson and Andre Iguodala, then Kevin Durant for a while.
Monday night they showed that it is still that way.