Game 5 Analysis and Predictions
By Andrew Grayson
The stakes couldn’t be much higher than they are heading into Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors. Through the first four games of the series, the two teams have alternated wins with the Celtics taking Games 1 and 3 and the Warriors coming out victorious in Games 2 and 4. With the series tied at two wins apiece, Game 5 will likely go a long way toward determining the ultimate victor. Teams that win the fifth game of a best-of-seven series tied at 2-2 go on to win that series over 80 percent of the time.
If the Warriors are going to be the team to take a 3-2 lead, they’re going to need some guys to step up around Steph Curry, who has been phenomenal throughout the series. Curry’s 43-point performance in Game 4 was a masterpiece, but Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole need to do more if the Warriors are going to win their fourth ring under Steve Kerr.
On the other side, the Celtics’ success might very well depend on their ability to slow down Curry — something they haven’t accomplished so far. Perhaps trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands is the way to go. It’s a strategy that’s at least worth a try. Also, Boston needs to take care of the ball. The Celtics are just 1-6 this postseason in games where they turn the ball over 15 or more times. Conversely, they’re 13-2 when they limit their turnovers to 14 or fewer.
Given all that’s at stake, Game 5 should be an extremely competitive contest. I’m leaning toward Boston due to its uncanny ability to always bounce back after losses. Here’s how our panel of Six Pack experts see it shaking out.
Curry is shooting 49 percent from 3 in the NBA Finals, on more than 12 attempts per game, is nuts. That said, the Celtics are kind of rolling out the red carpet for him to do this. Drop coverage against Curry is failure. Always has been. It invites the greatest shooter in NBA history to dribble into pull-up 3s against a retreating big man, with the only contest coming from the guard fighting over the top of the screen, who just isn’t going to get there in time.
It’s leading, relatively speaking, to a ton of comfortable, rhythmic 3-point shots for Curry, and he’s taking full advantage. You would think Ime Udoka would adjust at some point, but so far the first-year Celtics coach has not blinked. The Celtics don’t blitz, as most teams do vs. Curry.
The goal is to split the difference: Show just high enough to discourage Curry’s pull-up, but then quickly retreat to avoid letting him turn the corner past the slower big and get downhill. It’s playing with fire, trying to position your big in a manner so perfect that you end up defending Curry as a shooter and a penetrator, and too many times Boston is getting burned by either starting a step low or beginning the drop a beat early. Look how much room Al Horford allows Curry coming off this ball screen.
That’s way too easy for the guy who made pull-up 3s the most dangerous shot in the game. In this series, the Warriors are scoring over 116.9 points per 100 possessions when Curry is on the court. That would’ve registered as the best rating in the league in the regular season, and it’s nearly three points per 100 better than Golden State scored with Curry on the court during the regular season.
The Celtics are a world-class defense. This is the NBA Finals. This should be a significantly harder scoring environment for Curry than the regular season, but it’s been the exact opposite. He’s getting what — for him — are routine shots. Curry probably can’t remember the last time he got this many looks off the dribble.
To that point, it must be emphasized that the Celtics are still contesting Curry pretty hard from behind. The bigs are dropping, yes, but the “rear-view contests” have been aggressive. Curry has hit more than a few shots with a trailing defender hovering over, if not outright fouling, him.
Steve Kerr notoriously despises pick-and-roll basketball. He doesn’t want to put the ball in the hands of one player as everyone else stands around waiting for secondary involvement or spot-up 3s. It’s been the source of great frustration for many Warriors fans over the last five years because Curry is so deadly in pick-and-roll.
But in Kerr’s defense, Curry doesn’t normally see drop coverage. If he did, Kerr would be insane to not run pick-and-roll more often. He’s doing it in this series to counter Boston’s off-ball switching and ensure Curry gets his touches and shots without much else on Golden State’s offensive menu. If Kerr is getting Curry the shots he wants by virtue of the defense, it begs the question: Why are the Celtics doing this?
Pretty simply, they don’t want to compromise their coverage on everyone else by devoting two defenders to Curry, whom they don’t believe can single-handedly beat them if limiting everyone else and staying out of extreme rotations. It’s working, in a sense. Curry is averaging more than the next two highest-scoring Warriors — Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson — combined, and Draymond Green has, for the most part, been a complete non-factor offensively.