NBA Finals Notebook: Celtics seek answers as Warriors seek closure in Game 6

The core of the Warriors, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are close to winning their 4th NBA title in 8 seasons.

• Full Coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

BOSTON – Just being on the verge of doing something special wasn’t enough for the Golden State Warriors this 2022 NBA postseason.

Every time the Warriors got to that point in the first three rounds — a close-out game — they got into a bad habit of “playing with their food” and had to return home to lose work to do.

It happened in the first round against Denver, they missed a sweep as the Nuggets won Game 4. Golden State dragged the Nuggets back to San Francisco before eliminating two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic and co.

It happened in the conference semifinals against Memphis when the higher-seeded Grizzlies — without star point guard Ja Morant — proudly slammed the Warriors on the FedEx Forum in Game 5. Golden State ended the series two days later at the Chase Center.

And it happened in the Western Conference Finals against Dallas, where Golden State took a 3-0 lead, beating the Mavericks by 43 points in the first three, only to surpass their starters by 86-58 in Game 4. The Warriors went home anyway, but dragged the Mavericks with them. There they jumped on Dallas to lead 69-52 at halftime and managed the rest of the way for their sixth trip to the Finals in eight seasons.

“I just think that’s the NBA,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said ahead of Thursday’s Game 6 (9 ET, ABC). “You have talented teams. You have talented players to compete against. You’re in someone else’s building. It’s just not easy to shut someone out in the playoffs.

“There is no common thread. We just have to play really well to win. As simple as that.”

The difference from the previous series? There is very little room for error. This time it would throw the Warriors into a Game 7 where anything can happen if they let this clinch chance slip by. That was if an ankle was pinched, there were some early foul troubles, an unexpected cold shot (or shot hot by a Celtics or two), or a dozen other potential hiccups could swing momentum, tip the scoreboard and turn over a championship.

History offers some lessons. Teams that led 3-2 in the final won the championship 81.3% of the time (39-9). So far, so good.

However, things get difficult when the team lets the next game slip. Since the league’s merger with the ABA in 1976-77, 29 of the 45 Finals have played at least six games. Teams leading 3-2 eliminated 21 times in Game 6.

But of the eight who didn’t, six regretted it by losing both Game 6 and Game 7. Seattle 1978, Detroit 1988, New York 1999, Boston 2010, San Antonio 2013 and Golden State 2016 all failed to attend to business in six games – and lost their championships in seven.

Only Boston in 1984 and San Antonio in 2005 lost a 3–2 lead in the series and then rallied to win the series anyway.

The warriors would rather avoid that. But just as the Nuggets, Grizzlies and Mavericks have been doggedly betting on their exits, the Celtics are in no rush for the offseason.

Boston also has history on its side. The Celtics have played in 21 Finals and won 17. Of the four games they’ve lost, they’ve only been eliminated once at home, a 111-100 Game 6 loss to the Lakers in 1985.

Celtic’s playoff constant? inconsistency

The Celtics are 1-7 when they have 15 turnovers or more this postseason, but 13-2 when they have 14 or fewer.

Given that the Celtics can’t reliably say how they’ll play from one quarter to the next, expecting them to know what to expect in Game 6, let alone Game 7, is probably a challenge .

That’s probably the one thing they don’t want to hear: “Whatever, Game 7.” Pushing the finals back to San Francisco and keeping that alive for whatever may happen is their only priority.

For much of the postseason and in retiring three of the first five games in the Finals, Boston made repeated mistakes in key areas. After Monday’s 104-94 loss, media outlets covering the team throughout the season pointed to bad habits the Celtics had largely left behind when they turned their season around from January.

In Game 5 alone, they started poorly. You’ve been sidetracked a few times by the administration. Finishing on the edge was a struggle.

Boston’s two young stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, combined for 45 points but missed 15 of 38 with nine turnovers. And oh, those turnovers: The Celtics had 18 worth of 22 points for Golden State. That put them 13 points behind in that category in a game decided by 10.

In 23 games this postseason, Boston is 1-7 when making 15 turnovers or more, but 13-2 when they have 14 or fewer. Watching the ball is a must against the Warriors’ quick attack.

When asked about two or three keys to reducing turnovers, Boston coach Ime Udoka said, “Not penetrating too much is one. A dribble or two too many can get you in trouble. … Distance is a big part of knowing where your outlets are. … The physicality, as I mentioned, being strong with the ball. These are all things that we emphasize.”

Dropping Games 4 and 5 shattered one of the Celtics’ force fields – it’s the first time they’ve lost back-to-back in major games since January.

They lost to the Warriors, with Steph Curry getting minimal help offensively, and then lost to the Warriors, with Curry looking nothing like his usual sniper self (7-of-22, 0-of-9 on three). Curry actually saw himself ending his streak of 132 playoff games with at least a 3-pointer. Didn’t hurt his team though.

Boston point guard Marcus Smart believes a season that has demanded resilience from the Celtics for almost eight months has now generated some reserves.

“You have to [be]’ Smart said. “For us, we’ve been doing that all season simply for the simple reason that we were really at the back end catching everyone else. We were kind of forced to play with our backs to the wall.”

Boston was down 3-2 in their East semifinal series against the Bucks, going to Milwaukee to win Game 6 and then winning it home by seven. It blew a clincher at home in the conference finals in Game 6, then went to Miami and won Game 7 there anyway.

“We’ve really gotten used to it, where it’s kind of part of us, in our nature now,” Smart said. “This is nothing new for us. It’s another tough game.”

‘Game 6 Klay’ is a thing

Klay Thompson on the Game 6 Klay nickname: “Obviously that’s a nickname I’ve earned. I want to live up to that.’

By repeatedly making it big for the Warriors during this particular phase of a playoff series, guard Klay Thompson has earned the unofficial nickname “Game 6 Klay.”

So, Thursday night showtime?

“I realize I’m having a really good period right now in Game 6s. I don’t know how long that’s going to take,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, obviously [Thursday].”

Thompson has appeared in a dozen Game 6s in his career, averaging 20.7 points on 44.6% shooting – but 49.5% on 3-pointers.

Many fans remember Thompson’s Game 6 against Toronto in the 2019 Finals. That night he scored 30 points in 8-for-12 shooting but suffered a cruciate ligament tear when the Raptors won in Oakland that night.

Thompson also took a while to breathe life into the pattern, averaging 10.2 points on 33.9% shooting in his first five Game 6s.

His breakthrough came in the 2016 West Finals when Golden State was already climbing from a 3-1 hole to a 3-2 deficit. Then Thompson exploded for 41 points with 11 Treys and scored 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Starting with this one, Thompson has averaged 28.1 points in seven games 6, which is 46.8% overall and 65.8% from the arc. That includes his previous Game 6 this postseason when he hit 30 with eight 3-pointers in clincher against Memphis.

Thompson said: “Obviously that’s a nickname I’ve earned. I want to do justice to that. At the same time, I don’t want to go in there and play hero ball. I’m just going to be there and be myself, doing what I’ve been doing for the past few games.

The Stars Eating Together…

On Tuesday’s long flight from Golden State to Boston, Bob Myers, president of basketball operations, noticed Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green sitting at a table on the luxury plane sharing a meal.

“He’s like, ‘Man, you’re all funny, you guys are still sitting together,'” Green said. “You all don’t understand, it’s 10 years. That’s not how it happens. The guys are still sitting together at the same table. He says, “People who haven’t even been on the same team for 10 years, let alone still sitting at the same table and enjoying each other’s conversation and presence.”

The three have been teammates since 2012-13, when Green — picked as the No. 35 Michigan State contender in 2012 — joined Curry and Thompson. With already three rings and six trips to the Championship Series over the past eight seasons, the trio won their 20th Finals game on Monday. That puts them two behind the “Showtime” Lakers crew in the 1980s of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper.

It’s a testament to a contender whose core consisted of nearly a decade of home building, design, development, and title chasing. However, not everyone became so thoughtful.

“I owe Draymond some money in the form of dominoes, so I don’t want to see him to many times,” Thompson teased. “I was half asleep. Draymond and Bob chatted heart-to-heart for six hours during a plane trip. I was just trying to get some sleep. Good times.”

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, his archive can be found here and Follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.

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