Celtics vs. Warriors: Boston can still be the NBA champion, but it has to show us something

There may still be hope for the Boston Celtics. But their best chance to claim another banner was fixed in the past.

Sure, yes, of course — Boston technically could still win that series if they had a home yard at Game 6 Thursday night and then returned to San Francisco and then spread the W on the Warriors home floor Sunday night at Game 7.

However, they find themselves on the verge of elimination because they betrayed the surge of resilience and star-crushing defense that had brought them here. Shutting down Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler and moving forward are great wins. Dealing with Steve Curry – and the real, brutal, rare and amazing impact of trying to win the NBA title – is something else entirely.

We call it pressure. We call it fear. Call it the moment that separates the talented and the winners, the professionals from the champions. Whatever the case, he beat the Celtics in the last two games as much as he beat Curry & Co. she did.

Especially in Game 4, when the Warriors offered a victory to the Celtics on a silver platter. Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and their colleagues simply couldn’t stand it.

As in Game 4, the Celtics entered the fourth quarter of Game 5 by one point after a tough back-and-forth competition. Unlike in Game 4, though, Curry didn’t rise to defeat them on his own. They did it themselves just fine.

In Game 4, Boston was pressing a 3-1 lead in the series and all that likely means. Then Curry happened, and on the other side of the 17-3 Warriors we ran to finish that match we sat 2-2. Fine. The series is still going. The thing about facing the goats means you’ll likely have to deal with those big shows; The key is how to weather the storm. But the failure in Game 5 came with a decidedly fatal Curry: 16-point, 0-for-9 night off a 3-point streak, not the fourth-quarter championships.

Curry may have beaten them a few days ago, but this was just the Celtics, once again, nervous, nervous, and the elements, beating themselves up. They coughed up four sales in the fourth quarter. They shot 27 percent from the field and 25 percent from behind the bow. Tatum and Brown combined to take 2 out of 9 off the field. They broke.

To win the next two matches, they will have to do a lot more than beat the warriors and their all-time superstar. The Celtics will have to overcome something in and of itself that has made the best team in the NBA to a shell of themselves in the fourth quarter in the last two games.

And their failures came against a different kind of Warriors team than the team that has competed and won the NBA championships in the past—a team that’s less.

There is no Kevin Durant to save the Warriors on Carrie Night. Klay Thompson vacillated between mediocre and awesome, Draymond Green between awful and bad. Jordan Bull has long returned to what looks a lot like the J.League. Andrew Wiggins was excellent, sure, but if you can’t beat a team in the NBA Finals on a night where Wiggins is the best player, you might be in big trouble.

Carrie is Carrie, yes, apart from the uncharacteristic night he had on Monday. But Curry historically responds to poor games in the playoffs with effective nights of glorified attacking dominance.

“Now, that’s good for us,” Green said after the match after seeing this story before. “It was 0 against 9 out of 3. He’d be mad to go to Game 6, and that’s exactly what we needed.”

There are a lot of Xs and Os for you to study, and a lot of numbers that can tell the story of large sample sizes and statistical facts for both teams. There are game plans that Boston can, and should, make to repeat what they did well for long stretches of a streak they should have won, etc.

But as two-time NBA champion Isaiah Thomas tells me, all of those things go out the window when the pressure turns to extremes. “The pressure is real,” he said. “Some players, some great players, can handle it. Some can’t.”

But the real answer to how Boston wins this thing is simple and twofold: Don’t let Carrie beat you, don’t beat yourself up.

On the first question: Good luck. Curry, as I wrote, is likely to end his career as a top 5 player of all time, an all-time underappreciated talent, and earn his dues long after the fact. But he is the best player on the floor in the series, he has shown that he can win the match on his own if he has to, and in Game 5 his teammates are starting to provide the kind of help he could have used all along. Carey, Green said, will be alive Thursday night, and it will be dangerous.

But the second point deals with why this series feels over: no team can win the championship if they get close to it, the faster it fades away. And the Celtics were a bundle of nerves, anxiety and poor play in the moments when the cycle was closing in – turning the ball around, playing hot potatoes, and lacking a star ready to seize the moment.

Tatum has been discontinued a lot from this series. Brown has had several lackluster second halves. Marcus Smart did not fill this void. And you can only ask Al Horford and Derrick White to salvage the position in the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals once — and once it felt like too much.

The Celtics had a chance Thursday night, and as coach Im Odoka pointed out, they were in exactly that position, trailing 3-2 and facing elimination, earlier this season against last year’s champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.

But the basketball playoffs are about adjustments, and the thing Boston needs to do is one we haven’t seen them make yet: the ability to snatch a streak, under the strongest sense of hope and fear, when something as rare as a championship presents itself.

We’ve seen enough to know that Steve Curry can. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics are still trying to figure out how to face him when it matters most.

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