Before Game 3, I wrote:
ABC flashed an infographic in Game 1 with a daunting stat: the Warriors boast 123 games of Finals experience to the Celtics’ zero. The result of the opener may not have indicated that stark difference, but Game 2 could not have made it more clear. Golden State’s aging dynasty is attempting to hold off a surging youth movement in Boston.
With Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green well in to their 30’s, they have a wealth of exposure to championship pressure. Six runs to The Finals over the last eight years will do that. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are barely scratching the surface of their primes. Win or lose, this is only Year One.
Fast forward two games and that experience gap is looking wider and wider. On Monday night, the Warriors beat the Celtics 107-97 in Game 5, a contest that further highlighted just how much Boston has to learn from the three-time champions.
Even though the Celtics defense finally clamped down on Steph Curry (16 points on 7-for-22 shooting including missing all nine three-pointers), even though Boston shot 34% from behind the arc to Golden State’s 22%, and even though Brown (10) and Tatum (6) combined for more free three attempts than the entire Warriors team (15), they lost. And they didn’t just lose, they lost in what has become an annoyingly repeating re-run of Growing Pains.
Let’s start with the turnovers — all eighteen of them that lead to twenty-two Warriors points on the other end. The Celtics have won only one game this postseason where they’ve given up the ball sixteen or more times (Game 2 vs. the Bucks). Boston has credited Golden State and their second-best defense in the league, but that bugaboo belongs to them and they know it.
“We dropped the ball execution-wise,” Brown said. Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart combined for 13 turnovers with four in the fourth quarter.
“We gotta be better,” Tatum said. “We’re hard to beat when we don’t turn the ball over and clearly, we’re easy to beat when we do turn the ball over.”
Jayson Tatum wasn't giving the ball to Draymond pic.twitter.com/ISCTSTHjFh— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 14, 2022
There’s also the missed free throws. The Celtics had thirteen fewer field goal attempts. Some of that is obviously fueled by the turnovers, but Boston, despite preaching a need to be even more aggressive hitting the paint and attacking the rim, took 31 free throws (in lieu of field goal attempts) in Game 5, their highest total in the series. Unfortunately, they missed ten in a ten-point loss.
Some of that could be related to fatigue. Brown and Tatum logged 44+ minutes each. Neither sat in the third quarter when Boston outscored Golden State 35-24, including taking a 5-point lead; Smart and Robert Williams only missed 42 seconds.
“I wanted to be on the floor and Ime trusted me to be out there. Over the course of the game, we made some good plays,” Brown said. “We were in it. It just felt like we couldn’t get over the hump tonight.”
And while Boston was favored in the foul disparity (16-to-28), the team seemingly lost their cool several times during the game. Whether it was looking for calls on the offensive end or arguing fouls on defense, both the team and Udoka had several dustups with officials that led to two technicals on Udoka and Smart.
Ime Udoka got a technical foul here pic.twitter.com/7fO2kpRjJA— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) June 14, 2022
With half a second left on the clock in the first quarter, Udoka was livid after a Williams foul on Andrew Wiggins. Official Marc Davis whistled Udoka for being out of the coach’s box, but per Udoka, Tony Brothers “didn’t like how I pointed at him.” Later in the 4th, Smart picked up another technical from Josh Tiven.
“Not our best moment. We’ve been able to fend those things off throughout the playoffs,” Al Horford said. “For whatever reason, tonight, I feel like it got to us.”
So now, the Celtics head into Game 6 in a do-or-die situation looking to book a return trip to the Bay. Despite their inexperience, Boston is still confident that they can take advantage of this opportunity and win a championship.
“You’re faith gotta be at an all-time high. Our faith gotta continue to be there,” Brown said of his confidence facing an elimination game on Thursday. “We gotta play as a team, as a unit. All season long, it’s kinda been us vs. everybody.”