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Friday, June 03, 2022

Celtics Prove to be Road Warriors, Rally from 15 Point Deficit to Beat Golden State

Stephen Curry had his way early, but he and his teammates disappeared late as the Boston Celtics outscored the Golden State Warriors 40-16 in the fourth quarter to win game one of the NBA Finals, 120-108. The Celtics tied the NBA Finals record for point differential in a quarter. Al Horford led the Celtics with 26 points on 9-12 field goal shooting, including 6-8 from three point range, and he had 11 fourth quarter points on 4-4 field goal shooting. Jaylen Brown added 24 points on 10-23 field goal shooting, and he initiated the Celtics' fourth quarter rally, finishing with 10 fourth quarter points on 4-6 field goal shooting. Derrick White provided a major lift off of the bench with 21 points on 6-11 field goal shooting. Marcus Smart played a very efficient game (18 points on 7-11 field goal shooting, five rebounds, four assists, no turnovers in 30 minutes). Jayson Tatum struggled with his shot (12 points on 3-17 field goal shooting) but he had a game-high 13 assists, repeatedly finding open teammates when the Warriors trapped him.

The NBA is often a first quarter league, but this series may be a fourth quarter series as the Celtics use their size and physicality to wear down the Warriors. Curry scored 21 points on 7-9 field goal shooting in the first quarter, but the Warriors only led 32-28 after the first 12 minutes. Curry scored 13 points on 5-16 field goal shooting the rest of the way, and he was invisible in the fourth quarter (four points on 2-6 field goal shooting) as his Warriors lost home court advantage. Curry's game-high 34 points on 12-25 field goal shooting may look impressive, but he was not the best player on the court when it mattered most, and we have seen this movie many times before with Curry. For example, in the 2021 Play-In Tournament, Curry had a big game versus the L.A. Lakers but he faded down the stretch, and I wrote the following:

Remember all of the foolish talk a couple years ago about how much better Golden State's offense supposedly was with Kevin Durant out of the lineup? Do you think that Durant would have gotten off a shot in the final minute of this game? We already know the answer, because we have seen Durant dribble the ball up the court in the NBA Finals, and hit a pressure shot over James en route to outplaying James, winning a championship, and earning the Finals MVP. 

Curry is a great player. He had a game-high 37 points on 12-23 field goal shooting--but a great 6-3 player will never be more valuable than a great player who is taller, bigger, and stronger. It is baffling that anyone would think that Curry, as great as he is, is a more valuable basketball player than Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo this season, or that in previous seasons Curry was more valuable than players like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant when those players were healthy enough to play most of the regular season games.

Curry is a great player, and he put up great numbers in game one, but he can't carry a team to a title against a physical, tough defensive team. It also must be noted that Boston's first quarter defense against him was uncharacteristically horrific, as the Celtics repeatedly conceded wide open three pointers to Curry; once the Celtics stopped blowing defensive assignments and started using their size against Curry, he had no answer. I would not be surprised if this 34 point game ends up being his top scoring performance in the 2022 NBA Finals; at the very least, if he scores 34 points again he will not do it by launching wide open shots.

Even with Curry scoring 34 points, the Celtics held the Warriors below 110 points, and that 105-110 point range is the target that I predicted Boston can achieve defensively. Andrew Wiggins had a solid game (20 points on 8-15 field goal shooting), but Klay Thompson (15 points on 6-14 field goal shooting) and Jordan Poole (nine points on 2-7 field goal shooting) were non-factors. The Celtics are more than happy to give up open shots to Draymond Green (four points on 2-12 field goal shooting) and Otto Porter Jr., who scored 12 points on 4-5 field goal shooting but also had a -18 plus/minus number. Green and Porter are open by design; Curry was open in the first quarter by accident.

This was a game of runs, including 33-16 for Golden State in the third quarter to build an 87-72 lead, but the defining run was 40-13 for Boston in the fourth quarter before Golden State hit a meaningless three pointer. The Celtics made 10 straight field goals during their big run.

After the game, Green noted that Horford, Smart, and White shot 15-23 from three point range. He acknowledged that they are good shooters, but then he shrugged as if to say, "That won't happen again." Green may be right, but we can also be confident that Tatum will not shoot this poorly again the rest of the series, and we can be confident that if the Warriors close out on the three point shooters then they will get murdered in the paint; many of Boston's three point shots came after the Celtics attacked the paint, collapsed the defense, and then passed to open shooters. The Celtics can get into the paint almost at will versus the Warriors, and that is unlikely to change. If the Warriors hug the three point shooters too closely, then they will be giving up a parade of dunks and layups.

The Warriors' post-game narrative was that they outplayed the Celtics for three quarters but then just lost the fourth quarter. The reality is that the Warriors had a couple hot streaks in the first and third quarters, but they trailed 56-54 at halftime, and they were not able to put pressure on the Celtics. Tatum passed the ball well, but he was pressing every time he shot, and after he settles down he will be a major matchup problem. In other words, the things that the Celtics did well are more likely sustainable than the things that the Warriors did well.

After the game, it was fascinating watching and listening to the "experts" express puzzlement about this outcome; they have overrated Curry and the Warriors to such an extent that they are not able to objectively analyze the matchups. The series is not over after one game, but this one game is not surprising to anyone who has watched these teams play and understands how they match up.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:54 AM



At Friday, June 03, 2022 10:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Warriors lost G1, but the real loser is basketball.
1. it's one thing for All-Star Game to be a 3-pt shooting contest. That's an exhibition game. But the Finals?
2. Jaylen Brown took 3-4 steps on multiple plays (not called for traveling), and he wasn't the only player to get away with this.
3. Curry took himself out of plays by arguing foul calls, while the plays were still going.
4. The overall quality was all over the place. As you point out, Klay didn't do anything. Wiggins' numbers sure seemed hollow, at least on offense. Curry broke down, after a great start. Tatum's shooting was atrocious, despite passing. So the biggest stars didn't really perform like it.


At Friday, June 03, 2022 10:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the three point shot has become overused. I like the three point shot, but there can be too much of a good thing, and the NBA has reached that point.

The traveling rule is very inconsistently enforced, to put it mildly.

Curry and Green are incessant whiners. Green is very aggressive and demonstrative toward officials, and I am baffled that the officials tolerate this instead of calling a technical foul against him.

Horford, Brown, and Smart played well overall. Tatum was an outstanding facilitator even though he struggled to make a shot. No Golden State player other than Curry did much, and Curry disappeared down the stretch.


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