BOSTON – If a twisting Steve Curry’s foot in the late fourth quarter turns out to be the defining moment for the NBA Finals, if it either sidelines or hampers Curry’s impact enough to send the Warriors quietly into their summer without a fourth title, they have a failed chest—no blame.
Jason Tatum scored Clay Thompson in the 4:20 from the left while the Celtics took a 12th lead. Boston eventually won 116-100 to jump 2-1 in the series. But, at this particular point, the warriors were still living a fading life. They will only need to produce a near-perfect match in the last four minutes.
Thompson started it with a solid defense on Tatum, wasting 14 feet. But watch Marcus Smart crash out of the ocean. Jordan Bull barely marked it in his path while Curry and Andrew Wiggins watched the ball, allowing Smart to slip straight between the bouncing ball and hit the bouncing ball in a loose ball scramble.
This set off a chain of events that ended with Al Horford weighing on Curry’s left foot. Curry came out a bit out of the arena around 1am, sulking as he weighed more on the sprain in his left foot, he said was milder but similar to the injury he sustained against Boston in March, forcing him to be out for a month.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to miss a match,” Curry said. “Take advantage of these next 48 hours to prepare.”
It is too early to know the full ramifications of this partial failure and the resulting injury. But the sequence serves as a punctuation point for the Warriors 3’s biggest problem. They did not bring power. They did not play physical basketball. They didn’t go out often enough. They were crushed on the glass.
“Like shit,” Draymond Green said when asked how he plays. “I was thin.”
The Celtics had only 13 offensive rebounds in San Francisco’s two games – six in the first and seven in the second. This is a manageable amount. They’ve been protecting the glass really well for most of qualifying and especially lately. The Mavericks have only had nine, four, seven, four and six rebounds in the five conference finals against the Warriors.
In the third game, the Celtics had 15 offensive rebounds. They recovered 40.8 percent of their mistakes. That’s a dominant number, and the film tells an ugly story of the Warriors on the inside, as they edged out 22-11 in second-chance points and 52-26 in the paint.
Here’s Boston’s first of 15 attacking rebounds. Robert Williams sneaks past the inattentive Draymond Green, obtains inner influence on him and Kevin Looney and recovers a lost jacket. Another struggle ensued, but the Celtics beat the Warriors and eventually knocked them out to Jaylene Brown to score 3, the first of three of the 22 second-chance points.
“We lost all 50-50 fights today that we won most of the playoffs,” Looney said.
The victory of the lone warriors in the series was determined in part by Greene’s intense and physical attitude. As he goes, emotionally, his teammates often follow him. Green’s energy and impact were low in the two losses. He finished the match with two points, four rebounds, three assists and six fouls in the third game.
Here’s Green on Williams early in the second quarter. Williams fires a 7-foot hook bullet right out of the paint. He doesn’t have the best touch, so that’s not a terrible result for warriors. Leave it short.
But Williams gets it back for a closer hook and a converted corner kick because Green doesn’t get into his body for a box after the first foul. Instead, he wanders toward the ledge and watches the recoil bouncing over his head. This is an uncharacteristic green bug.
The Warriors throttled the Celtics in the third quarter again, climbing all the way from that 17-point hole to briefly take the lead. But the crucial extension came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when Grant Williams went on to defeat the Warriors to offensive rebounds and Boston regained control of the match.
This is the first of what could be three offensive rebounds from Grant Williams during this breakaway stretch. Tatum misses the number 3 right wing, but then again, Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. fail to get the body of the collapsed Celtics player. Grant Williams slips between them and directs her to Robert Williams, who takes her back and forces a shooting error.
This is the third of Grant Williams’ three offensive rebounds. Comes early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics extended the lead to nine. The game quickly slides out of the warriors. They leave Marcus Smart wide open at corner 3, but he misses.
Get the defensive bounce, score on the ensuing possession, and the situation may look more stable. But Gary Payton II, Poole, and everyone else in the hole once again failed to put a body on Grant Williams, who plays more physically than anyone else on the field. He disabled it, put it in place and put the Celtics at 11, forcing Steve Kerr into a timeout.
Given the defensive rebound issues, it’s fair to wonder why Kevon Looney only got 17 minutes. Looney had seven rebounds in those 17 minutes and was one of the best rebounds in the league in these playoffs, but Kerr chose to chase this game with groups of mostly small ball formations.
“We have to take into account what is happening on the ground, and what we need,” Kerr said. “Do we need spacers? Do we need better bounce? And we were kind of blocking the holes tonight. They did a good job. They took the win. They put a lot of pressure on us, and we felt like we were kind of swimming upstream most of the night. So we didn’t We can find this two-way mix other than the third stretch when Steph got really hot. Can’t find the right combination to strike that balance.”
When warriors go on the looney bench and go small, Green, Porter, and Wiggins must deal with the responsibility of defensive recoil. Wiggins scored seven rebounds. Greene had four. Porter only had one. Payton was one. Collectively, they were weak on the inside and lost the game – and possibly the series, given Curry’s little-known condition – because of it.
(Photo of Grant Williams capturing a major rebound in the tiebreak against Warriors: Elsa/Billiards via USA Today)