With the Celtics’ defense smothering the split actions, the off-ball movement and relocation, the back-door cuts and everything else in the Warriors’ bag of tricks to get a defense scrambling, Steve Kerr turned the Golden State offense over to the one thing that has been working in these NBA Finals — Stephen Curry.
And when it mattered most, Curry was transcendent.
Curry had more picks set for him in Game 4 than he had in any game this season (48 according to preliminary tracking data), putting him in position to hunt mismatches and create the team’s offense. Curry responded with a legendary performance: 43 points, including 7-of-14 from 3, plus 10 rebounds.
“Just stunning,” Steve Kerr said of Curry. “The physicality out there is, you know, pretty dramatic. I mean, Boston’s got obviously, best defense in the league. Huge and powerful at every position, and for Steph to take that — that kind of pressure all game long and still be able to defend at the other end when they are coming at him shows you, I think this is the strongest physically he’s ever been in his career, and it’s allowing him to do what he’s doing.”
Combine a red-hot Curry with better Warriors’ defense in the final eight minutes of the game — even with Draymond Green on the bench for part of it — which forced the Celtics into too much isolation and settling for 3s, and that was all Curry and the Warriors needed.
Curry sparked Golden State to a 107-97 come-from-behind win in Boston, tying up the series at 2-2. The NBA Finals is now a best-of-three, with Game 5 Monday night in San Francisco.
Besides Curry, the most talked about move of the night will be Kerr putting Draymond Green on the bench for four critical minutes in the fourth quarter — and the Warriors being +7 in those minutes. Green was having a very rough game and Kerr — down 4 with 7:32 left in the game — had to be ruthless and sat Green to play Kevon Looney. It worked, the Warriors retook the lead. Down the stretch, Kerr tried to sub offense (Jordan Poole) for defense (Green) where he could, and Green made a couple of big plays down the clutch.
“But Loon was playing so well and Jordan Poole was playing so well, so we just stayed with the group,” Kerr said of leaving Green on the bench, adding this started as Green’s regular rest. “We generally do that. Like most coaches, if you’ve got a group that’s going well, you just stay with it.”
Whether Green was on the floor or not, the Warriors played their best defense of the series in the final eight minutes of Game 2. In the face of that, the Celtics settled too much.
“Offensively, stalled out a little bit,” Ime Udoka said. “We got some good looks from three. But other than the one that Al [Horford] made — I wouldn’t say we got stagnant. We did get some good shots off, but we would like to get a little bit more downhill and get some things to the rim and kick out. Credit to them. They stepped up defensively when it counted. Our offense wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be, no doubt.”
The Celtics stars put up numbers but were not efficient. Jayson Tatum had 23 points on 8-of-23 shooting but also six turnovers, Jaylen Brown had 21 on 9-of-19, and Marcus Smart needed 18 shots to get his 18 points. The Celtics also turned the ball over 16 times as a team, helping stall out the offense at points.
Andrew Wiggins — the second-best Warriors player so far this series — finished with 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Klay Thompson had 18 points and some key buckets late, while Poole added 14.
But they were all the sideshow — this was Stephen Curry’s night. And because of him, the Warriors head home tied 2-2.