Stephen Curry did not hit a single three-pointer against the Boston Celtics on Monday night, marking his first play-off game without a longball and breaking a 233-game streak with at least a single make from deep. The Warriors, as a team, have taken 9-for-40 shots, taken less than half the free throws than the Celtics, and lost their favorite third quarter in double digits. Drymond Green was fouled for the third time in five games, when Jason Tatum finally made at least half of his shots. All of these horrific statistics point to a clear rate of warriors, and yet they have smoked the Celtics.
If Game 4 lacked the first three games of the beautiful, precise shotmaking series to defile Stephen Curry’s basketball law, then Game 5 was a welcome return to the mud. It continues to be a decisive game in an equalizer series, and the Warriors are now on the verge of their fourth title in seven years as they were able to beat Celtic, primarily thanks to a newcomer. They are one win away from securing the Curry-Green-Thompson Core comeback championship because a player’s two-way superiority was once written as blank. Thanks to Andrew Wiggins they are on their way to victory.
The pre-Warriors version of the Wiggins is presented as one of the most appropriate league players with the Warriors style. Playing around Stef Curry requires quick decision-making, movement, court perspective and the ability to pass everything to put it all together. Wiggins is fiercely athletic, yet his indifference to rock passing in almost any situation and his effective, ball-stopping shot profile make him questionable with three players who play like the Warriors boys. The process wasn’t always smooth, but Wiggins found his place in the Warriors’ best lineup, finding the right gaps to occupy and learning when to apply pressure on defense. Sometimes, the movement system hangs, and Wiggins’s one-on-one game offers an escape valve. With each successive Warriors play-off series, his shooting percentage decreased, although the finals were clearly his best round. He grabbed 16 boards in Game 4, then followed it up in Game 5 with 26 points, 13 rebounds, two stills, a game in which he led a killer defensive performance.
About all the mud above: Boston dropped a quick double-digit lead, handling just 39 nerve points in the first half and was stunned by the forces of Drymond Green and Wiggins. Curry’s big Game 4 eventually forces Ime Udoka to send a double team to Curry, more aggressively chasing him to the line and taking the Warriors’ 4-on-3 game as a price to pay. Green was so calm — this is probably the wrong word — series on the court because the Celtics were able to resist the temptation to tilt themselves from their defensive axis to stop Carrie through the first four games. This changed to Game 5, and although the Celtics were lucky that none of the Warriors shooters except Thompson were punished for doubling their curry (the non-Thompson starters shot 19 from three to 0), leaving room for the Greens and Wiggins. Make plays for yourself or their teammates. Green has chosen teammates; Wiggins did it himself.
Lock-in, against the Hyperware Celtic defense, the Warriors have a tendency to go through this terrifying expanse where they can either settle or be forced, but nothing more than three-pointers competing from light to serious. Sometimes the curry can’t be loose, or the Celtics make the right decision on four straight screens and the Warriors then have to find some rubbish with eight seconds left on the shot clock. They face an undisputed lack of athleticism in the finals, although they may have the best athletes in the series. Wiggins ‘usefulness as a driver has never been more important to the Warriors’ success in this round. It’s very difficult to keep him out of the paint, especially when you can’t send any help from the fence at any cost because your two best defenders are tasked with looking at the curry everywhere within 50 feet of the hoop. Wiggins knows he’s got a clean runway, so he takes it.
The Celtics recovered from their 12-point halftime deficit and took the Warriors straight into the third quarter. Jayson Tatum was deadly, and the defense reached a new intensity. Golden State engineers could not do what they wanted, hesitant and overwhelmed. The Warriors ’16-point first-half lead turned into a five-point deficit that felt like 20, as the Warriors are a team that dominates the third quarter, not punctuated. Boston got everything they wanted, and with the return of Game 1 they stopped and won Game 3, Game 5 seems to be blocking their way. Grabbing the lead down so low comes with undeniable speed. Boston is younger, more athletic and theoretically hungry. If the Warriors were to respond, they would have to find a way to explode Boston with their best.
Again, it was Wiggins, this time on defense and glass. Wiggins played the entire competitive part of the second half, locking up Jason Tatum in the fourth quarter. He led the game in rebounding on the second night in a row. Tatum shuddered at the pressure of Wiggins. He either passes it too fast or Wiggins forces bad shots while he’s on, then he can’t read the best when attacking Carrie with a switch. The Warriors attacked the Boston Curry in a way they had never before in the final because they have such a talented assistant defender. Wiggins, of course, excelled at the ball in Game 5, although I was impressed by his work as a retriever, hedger, and helper. He got into the passing lane and forced the Celtics to think extra things. He had two thefts, though he had a hand in forcing 18 Boston turnovers. As in the end of Game 4, it’s fair to ask if Boston played poorly or Golden State defended well. And just as it did with Game 4, the Warriors ‘defense, not the Celtics’ brains, has won.
Wiggins was the moment of the night, when he sealed the victory with a huge jam. The difference between team athletics is important when you have someone who can do it.
With all the focus on Curry’s shooting and Tatum’s playmaking, these finals are also a matchup between the two best defenses in the NBA. They’re all very good at snatching their opponents’ best things, a dynamic that highlights how incredible Wiggins was: he stopped Jason Tatum in defense while punishing the Celtics for snatching Curry for the offense. The man who seemed to be such an Ersatz fit for the Warriors has become the player they need against an incredibly tough opponent, and he is one win away from being confirmed with a ring.