Here are nine reasons the Celtics could still pull themselves out of dire straits and find a way to win the NBA title.
1. The Warriors have left the daylight in close-out games
During this playoff, Golden State is 0-3 on its first chance to end a series. Of course, those losses didn’t matter as the Warriors are still standing. But it could be an indication that they are slacking if they have a cushion. The Celtics are the best team Golden State has faced this postseason. If the Warriors can’t win on Thursday, they could regret the missed opportunity. Anything is possible in a Game 7, where one unfortunate performance can change everything.
2. The Celtics are aware of their biggest mistake
Boston’s barometer of success is quite simple. The Celtics are 14-2 when they have fewer than 16 turnovers and 0-7 when they don’t. Of course, the team has been aware of this trend for some time and hasn’t always been able to do much about it. But when the stakes were highest, Boston was able to refocus and shake off those problems. It averaged 11.7 turnovers per game in its three eliminator wins in those playoffs and never had more than 14.
3. Robert Williams appears healthy again
The postseason has been a roller coaster for the talented young center, who has been struggling with left knee pain related to his March 30 surgery to repair a torn meniscus. His playing time was limited and he looked rusty as he returned via the Nets for the final two games of the opening round win. He suffered a setback when he bruised a bone in the semifinals against the Bucks, and he’s appeared to have an occasional limp ever since. But for most of that streak, Williams resembled the athletic prowess that became such an asset to the Celtics that year. In the last two games, he’s broken the 30-minute mark for the first time this postseason and is shooting a staggering 88.9 percent from the field in the streak.
4. The defense has remained very good
During the regular season, the Celtics’ elite defense allowed just 106.2 points per 100 possessions. In the NBA Finals, that number rose slightly against strong offense to 110.6, which would still have been in the NBA’s top 10 in the regular season. Stephen Curry has put in a few masterful performances, but Boston’s wall is hardly crumbling. And when the effort wears off, it’s most visible at this end of the course.
“We defend well enough to win,” said coach Ime Udoka.
5. Curry has finally cooled down? Maybe?
The Warriors won Game 5 despite Curry missing all nine of his 3-point attempts. It was the first playoff game of his career in which he didn’t make at least one. That could have just been an outlier, but what if it’s actually the start of a small dip? The Celtics made a concerted effort to force Curry into defensive actions in Game 5 to wear him down and that may have influenced him. At 34, he could tire as this long postseason comes to an end. He probably won’t go 0 for 9 again, but this series would be in a different place if he hadn’t caught fire in the first four games.
6. Jayson Tatum might be warming up
Look, this just wasn’t a great postseason for Tatum, an All-NBA first-team pick. He had two key defining moments: his 46-point breakout in Game 6 in Milwaukee and his buzzing, game-winning layup in Game 1 against the Nets. Otherwise he is fine. But in Game 5 he shot 10 of 20, his first night shooting at least 50 percent in the finals. And his 3-pointer has looked good throughout the series. If he can convert a tough finish or two early in Game 6 and find a rhythm on the free throw line, there might still be time for his finishing shot. Boston has won its last six games in which Tatum attempted at least 10 fouls.
7. Third quarter disasters could be a thing of the past
In the first four games of that series, the Celtics were beaten outright in the third quarter at 50.6 points per 100 possessions. The damage was so great that some doubts and unease probably crept in at half-time. But in the third quarter of Game 5, the Celtics hit six 3-pointers to surpass Golden State 35-24. At least it shouldn’t be a dark cloud anymore.
8. The Celtics are taller, more athletic and ready to pounce
If Williams is healthy and turnovers are limited, Boston can play to one of his strengths in this matchup. In Boston’s 16-point win in Game 3, it committed just 12 turnovers, hit 15 offensive rebounds and scored 22 second-chance points.
9. The road is not a deterrent
The Celtics insisted on Wednesday they are not looking past Thursday’s Game 6 and they would certainly be wise not to. But in that case, the much bigger hurdle would come on Sunday with a possible Game 7 in San Francisco. But the Celtics have won there before in this series and are 8-4 in the playoffs. These environments just don’t affect them very much.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.