The Golden State Warriors, facing the possibility of an ominous 1-3 deficit, woke up from their stupor in time to win Game 4, 107-97, and even the NBA Finals Best-of-Seven series 2-2. With that, the Warriors stay alive as they head back to San Francisco for Game 5 of what is now turning out to be a gruelling down-to-the-wire Finals. With that, momentum goes back to the Warriors, as they take homecourt advantage to 2 of the remaining 3 games in this series.
But come to think of it, is holding homecourt still considered an advantage? With both teams absorbing losses in their respective homecourts, it looks like the homecourt ad don’t really matter now.
In Game 1, we saw the Boston Celtics stun the Golden State Warriors with a 120-108 shellacking in spanking-new Chase Center in San Francisco, clearly raising questions on the homecourt ad. This win saw a 40-16 4th quarter barrage that silenced the fans at the Center. The Celtics’ high percentage shooting – starring Al Horford, Jalen Brown, and Marcus Smart – denied the Warriors their vaunted quick transition, ultimately deciding the outcome of the game.
In Game 2, the veteran Draymond Green used his physicality to intimidate the Celtics. He played mind games with the Celtics, with the refs and officials in leading the Warriors to a dominant 107-88 counter-punch. And tying the series at 1-all. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole took care of the offensive end, but the war was won in the trenches as Draymond bullied the young, inexperienced Celtics. This time, it was a devastating 35-14 run in the 3rd quarter that turned the tide for the Warriors.
However, in Game 3 at the TD Garden in Boston, the Celts came prepared. And even the Boston crowd took the cudgels for the team. Draymond’s physical game was matched by a bigger, stronger, faster Celtic line, plus a raucous homecourt crowd that tried to distract Draymond every step of the way. Draymond would eventually foul out, after alternately trying to bait the players, the refs and the fans. The Celtics would take a 2-1 lead once more with a 116-100 win pulling away.
For the Boston Celtics, Game 4 would have been their coming-out party after they shed off the bully-victim image. Up to the last 4 minutes of the last quarter, the Celts were right in there trading shots and even led the Warriors. But just as things were supposed to get easier for the Celtics with Green being whistled for his 4th personal foul, the much-vaunted Warriors offense suddenly came alive. As the Warriors’ transition game flourished, it was now the Celts’ offense that sputtered. Suddenly, it was the Celts’ shooting that would go cold during those crucial last 4 minutes. The Warriors would win this 107-97, tying the series for the second time.
Credit coach Steve Kerr for his audacity (or was it desperation?) In replacing Green with Jordan Poole. Against an uncommon five of Curry, Thompson, Poole, Wiggins and Looney, the young Celts would stumble and fall. It was the unknown factor, the element of surprise, that would do them in.
What will eventually determine who wins or who loses the Finals?
On the one hand, we have a champion team in the Warriors, with their proven individual talent, their experience, their deeper bench. Plus the now-in-question homecourt advantage. Steph has gone berserk in this series, elevating his play to super-hero standards. Klay has been a steady back-up, both in offense and defense. But their traditional third wheel – the mercurial Draymond – has been erratic, alternating from being effective and being a distraction to the team’s efforts. A menace on defense, he is seen as a non-factor in the offense. (Remember the 2016 Finals when the Cleveland Cavs came from a 1-3 deficit to win the series? That was largely due to a Draymond suspension in Game 4 of their title playoffs, allowing the Cavs to win Game 5, and ultimately wrestle the momentum from the Warriors.) Credit to this Game 4 come-from-behind Warriors’ win must also go to the supporting crew. They were a big part in this, with Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole alternating in providing the 3rd cog in the wheel, and with Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr and Gary Payton II providing quality minutes. For a while, the Dubs were looking old there, until coach Steve Kerr decided to utilize more fresh legs and their deeper bench.
But it was Steph’s sense of urgency in Game 4 that really spelled the difference. His 43 points was simply huge.That sense of urgency, that pride as a champ, eliminated that smugness, that attitude of entitlement that goes with having been there as champs. The Warriors are placing almost all their eggs in Steph’s basket, giving him the ball, providing him the screens, the picks; giving him whatever he needs to lift the team to the high heavens.
As for the Boston Celtics, they are a young team, inexperienced and unfamiliar with the klieglights of center stage. But they have with them a hunger that is absent in more successful teams like the Warriors. They have an eagerness to learn. And they are no longer in awe of their elders in the league. And they continue to mature with the series’ ebbs and flows. They now know that they can compete with the best of them, as evidenced by their 4-0 wipe-out of early favorites Brooklyn Nets, plus their 2 come-from-behind series wins against the defending champs Milwaukee Bucks and the Eastern Conference regular season league leaders Miami Heat. The 3 biggest teams in the East, and now the best from the West, what a ride this has been. This is a team that knows that they can only succeed as a team. Coach Ime Udoka has done a great job inculcating in this unit the adage: the whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts.
The athleticism and talent of both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are clearly the main ingredients in the Celtic campaign. But the Double Jays’ output will be cancelled out by the Dubs’ tried-and-tested Splash Brothers. Coach U will need Smart, Derrick White or Al Horford to alternate as the 3rd wheel. There’s Grant Williams as well who could explode any minute, plus defensive menace Robert Williams II, who will impact the game on the defensive end. It will be interesting to watch which team’s 3rd wheel will step up at this critical stage.
With just 3 games to go before the NBA crowns a new king, both teams must now strive to be at their best. How will the Celtics handle that fireball, Steph? Or that quick-release hitter, Klay? How will they deal with the mind games of Draymond? How do the Dubs’ trump the Celts’ size? How will the Dubs’ speed and small-ball work against the younger, more athletic Celts? Finally, will the Warriors’ experience save the day? Or will the Celtics’ hunger for a title squeeze them through?
For a closer view, just click on the pics. Cover Photo courtesy of Golden State Of Mind. Other pics courtesy of Inquirer Sports, Sports Illustrated, ABC News, The Manila Times, Sunstar, San Francisco Chronicle, masslive.com, News-Star.com, Yahoo! Sports, Sportscasting and Action Network.