SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Kerr was a valued backup who came into the spotlight 25 years ago this very day, after joking that he “saved” Michael Jordan in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Considering Jordan’s “Flu Game” was days before that, it seemed fitting that history repeat itself with Kerr’s Golden State Warriors actually coming to Stephen Curry’s aid after his virtuoso performance.
The dynasty, once on its last legs, was rehabilitated, strengthened and fortified. The dynasty, easily believed to have been built on supernatural gunfire and flashes, obscured the routine and intelligence of its founding members.
The dynasty, once considered dead, is alive and well.
Long live the kings.
Curry was in for a night off, and he finally arrived. But just in time, the Warriors found the vulnerable spot in the game, but the tired Boston Celtics kept poking until they dropped.
Another 48 minutes separate these Warriors from their fourth NBA title in eight years after a 104-94 win in Game 5 on Monday night, opening up a 3-2 lead at the Chase Center.
Curry’s scandalous streak of 132 straight playoff games with a 3-pointer ended, along with another ho-hum mark, 233 straight games in total. But, as has become customary in this era, if you take a piece of their flesh, they apparently come out better for it — ending the Celtics’ playoff streak of winning seven straight games after a loss.
The Celtics take an almost perverse delight in not caring, in putting themselves in adverse situations – getting close to the edge only to step back and laugh at potential danger, the way a child looks down a flight of stairs before snickering slyly at him. you for believing that danger was ahead.
Danger is on their doorstep now, again squandering a golden opportunity they will likely kick themselves for in the offseason with careless turnovers, bad kicks and some fatigue starting to set in after two seven-game playoff series heading into the finals.
“I just thought our strength, our pressure, our help was there all along,” Kerr said. “We just don’t allow too many openings. And our rotations were good, and then we flew to the snipers.”
Coming here – the Warriors’ 103rd game of the season, the Celtics’ 105th – means that novelty has been replaced by contemptuous familiarity and headroom is limited. These series aren’t usually pretty as they progress, the tweaks are too subtle to notice.
“The deeper you go in the series, you know yourself so well,” said Curry, who scored 16 with eight assists to just one turnover. “Yes, it might not be the most fluid situation or the prettiest high-level skill out there, but it’s just a difficult task.
“That’s what the Finals are all about.”
Fighting is romanticized when there is distance, but in real time, whoever is more comfortable being uncomfortable determines the winner compared to who plays better under ideal circumstances.
In addition to a stretch of eight straight triples, a record in the Finals, the Celtics shot 3-of-24 from distance and their top ball handlers – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart – combined 13 of the Celtics’ 18 turnovers.
“When we’re at our best, ball movement is simple,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “I think the third quarter showed that. The drive and kick was beautiful, it was working, getting the guys wide shots. As I said, I don’t know if it was fatigue [that] affect decision making a little bit, or just physically lack the strength to finish.”
But it’s the Warriors that pushed them into that intersection — immaturity and emotion — and they’ll continue to squeeze. With less than a quarter sterling, the Warriors have dictated the terms of engagement for the last two games, and the Celtics’ talent is so overwhelming it was almost enough to take a critical lead back home.
When Jordan Poole’s 35-foot shot to finish the third regained the Warriors’ lead, it didn’t look like they could bounce back from the brink again.
Tatum (27 points) and Brown (18 points, nine rebounds) were both frustrated by their own decisions and the Warriors’ ability to wait for the inevitable collapse. Andrew Wiggins once again stuck with Tatum and didn’t budge an inch – staying the course after Tatum finally began to emerge after a disappointing start to the series.
Wiggins is a problem the Celtics have no counterattack for, with 26 points and 13 rebounds after his 17-point, 16-rebound exit in Game 4. Wiggins and you’ll see Andre Iguodala’s side profile – misinterpreted as a striker franchise, but perfectly identified as a do-it-all type, talented enough to be a protagonist when Curry is smothered or struggling with his own glowing standards.
Grabbing Wiggins in a trade for D’Angelo Russell in early 2020 was a silent catalyst for this franchise to transform. At first glance, it looked like the Warriors wanted the protected Minnesota draft pick that became Jonathan Kuminga, but added to a depleted roster of versatile wingers.
“This trust has been building for two and a half years since he arrived here. A lot of people looked at the trade like, oh, this is another piece they can move,” Draymond Green said. “We looked at the trade from the start as if he was a guy who might fit right in next to a healthy group.”
Green pointed to his 2016 Olympic teammate, Miami Heat tough Jimmy Butler, as the biggest endorsement for Wiggins, regarding his reputation in Minnesota as a talented underdog.
“We all know what Jimmy Butler is like,” Green said. “If you have any softness, Jimmy doesn’t like you.”
It is implied that Green is saying the same thing, feeling like he could push a button inside Wiggins to get the best of him. And Green began to look more like a better version of himself, skipping the passing lanes while also starting to take advantage of the lanes presented to him.
With eight points, eight rebounds and six assists, he was ignored but noisy before being eliminated – a role closely followed by Gary Payton II, who looks a far cry from the reserve who writhed in pain from a broken elbow in Memphis. two rounds ago.
Payton took advantage of every inch – slashing through the back door as a safety valve on offense while ducking under the larger Celtics’ bodies on defense, another dirty dimension for this Warriors team.
“Gary plays better than any other 6-2 player I’ve ever seen,” said Klay Thompson of Payton II, who scored 15 goals with five rebounds and three steals. “His ability to slide and stay in front of the ball obviously we know where it came from, his pops.
“Draymond helped us with his blood pressure and heart. I love going into battle with these two guys. They’re just brave, throwback type. ”
It’s not a repeat of 2015, but the Warriors can smell a familiar scent — and they probably smell a little desperation at the Celtics, backed into a corner they didn’t want to choose.