Following a 104-94 win, Golden State officially has Boston on the ropes. However, Boston may just be the toughest atmosphere in the history of the game to close out a series. The only opposing team to close out the NBA Finals in Boston? The 1985 Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In game five, Golden State pulled off what a lot of folks, including myself, didn’t think they could pull off. They beat Boston with a subpar shooting performance from Stephen Curry.
And make no mistake about it, this wasn’t a “checkbook” win, nor are the Warriors on a different playing field than everyone else, as Brian Windhorst went on ESPN and proclaimed.
Yes, Golden State has the highest payroll in the league, but not by a drastic margin.
The Warriors’ payroll is upwards of 178 million – the next highest? The Brooklyn Nets, at a little over 171 million, and they got swept in the first round! The next two highest teams after that? The Clippers at 166+ million and Lakers at 163+ million, neither of which made it into the playoffs.
It’d be one thing if Windhorst pointed this out at any point during the regular season or even at the beginning of the playoffs. It wasn’t a talking point when the Warriors were down 1-0 or when they were down 2-1 or even when the series was knotted up at 2-2. But now that the Warriors are one win away from winning their fourth NBA championship in eight seasons, he wants to bring up their payroll? Respectfully, take your tears off the air, Mr. Windhorst.
Anyway, what are some other storylines to look for heading into game six?
Game Six Klay
This one’s been a storyline all postseason long and it’s certainly one the Warriors are aware of.
“It’s obviously a nickname I’ve earned and I’ve lived up to. But I don’t wanna go in there and play hero ball,” said Thompson in Wednesday’s presser. Klay Thompson has stepped up in big moments for years and this postseason hasn’t been any different.
In round two, Thompson scored 30 points in their game six closeout win versus Memphis. In the Western Conference Finals, in the Warriors’ closeout game five win, Thompson went off for 32 points. And even in this Finals series, Thompson has stepped up when they needed him the most. Down the stretch of game four, Thompson’s stellar defense on Jaylen Brown helped prevent a late push from Boston and he hit the go-ahead three to take a 95-94 lead with 4:26 minutes left in that game and the Warriors never looked back.
The phrase “rise to the occasion” is a bit misleading but Thompson seizes the moment more often than not and it’s tough to anticipate this one being any different.
Will Thompson add to his “game six” resume? Maybe not to the tune that he has in the past but with Golden State being just one win away from their core’s 4th ring, Thompson and the rest of the Warriors are going to look to rip the hearts out of Boston.
The game plan for Thursday night? Play a full 48 minutes.
“48 minutes of just pure toughness, will, determination, just being focused and locked in 48 minutes like we did the last two games. I think if we can do that for an extended period of time, we’ll leave Boston pretty happy,” said Gary Payton II.
Golden State understands the gravity of the moment and they’re going to do everything in their power to not let this opportunity slip.
Curry Bouncing Back
“He’s going to be livid going into Game 6 and that’s exactly what we need,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green in response to Curry’s game five shooting struggles. Just like the Warriors trusted Green to get it going after struggling for a large portion of this series, they’re trusting Curry to find his shooting rhythm again and they have no reason not to.
Curry’s been remarkable in these Finals’ and there’s little reason to believe game six will be any different. But with Boston on the brink of elimination will they change up the way they defend Curry?
Boston seemed to make it more of a point to not give Curry any breathing room on Monday night in game five but that wasn’t why Curry had an off-shooting night. For the most part, he was missing shots he’s hit all series long. It felt like he started hunting out threes at a certain point in that game, and although they weren’t bad shots, the degree of difficulty was high.
Curry was 0-9 on 3PA’s and 7-13 on shots inside the arc. If Curry lets the game come to him and takes what the defense gives him, there’s no reason he shouldn’t have a bounce-back game shooting the ball.
The adjustment many are calling for from Boston is to blitz Curry on screens and get the ball out of his hands at all costs. There’s not much in this series that points to the Celtics playing him that way but the sheer desperation of being on the brink of elimination could be enough to swing Boston’s philosophy.
Jayson Tatum is having one of the more strange playoff series’ from a star in recent memory. It’s tough to go as far as to say Tatum has been bad but he’s definitely struggled through the first five games of the NBA Finals.
Tatum has defended well, rebounded well and he’s had his moments facilitating for his teammates, but he’s lacked efficiency shooting the ball inside the three-point line and his turnovers have been an issue at times too.
The odd thing about his lack of efficiency is that while he’s shooting just 37.3% from the field and 65.6% from the free-throw line, he’s been on fire from deep, shooting 47.5% on 8 attempts per game.
Tatum had his most efficient game of the series in game five and it still wasn’t enough to get by the Warriors. The issue with his game five performance? He crumbled down the stretch. Tatum went 1-5 from the field and 2-4 from the charity stripe with 0 rebounds, 0 assists, and one turnover in just under 11 minutes of play in the fourth quarter.
When his team has needed him the most this season, Tatum has generally stepped up – he even had a 46-point performance in an elimination game in Milwaukee earlier this postseason.
Boston has their backs against the wall right now and although the moment did look too big for them at times in game five on the road, look for Tatum to have a strong performance at home in game six.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Golden State hoist the Larry O’Brien in Boston, but I think Boston finds a way to force a game seven in San Francisco.
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