SAN FRANCISCO — If a fortune teller told you that Stephen Curry was going to make history in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, you’d probably guess that the Golden State Warriors would come away with a win. After all, Curry was coming off a jaw-dropping 43-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 4 that put him in the esteemed point-guard company of legends Magic Johnson and Jerry West. The possibilities, it seemed, were endless.
You’d then curse the shady fortune teller with all your heart when you realized the history that Curry made was of the ignominious variety. The greatest shooter of all time went 0-for-9 from 3-point range on Monday night, marking the first time in 132 straight playoff games — 233 straight games including the regular season — that he failed to make a single 3-pointer. Curry finished with 16 points, almost 20 below his average in the first four games of the Finals.
And yet this Warriors team, that had found basically zero offense outside of Curry in the Finals, worked, hustled and forced its way to a 104-94 win over the Boston Celtics to take a 3-2 lead and come within a single win of the franchise’s fourth NBA title in eight seasons.
Watching the Warriors on Monday was like watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after they replaced Aunt Viv with a different actress. You know it’s the same show, but it’s just different than what you’re used to.
All the talk coming into Game 5 was about how heavily Curry had been carrying the Warriors. It was the subject of talking head shows, a topic at Sunday’s media availability, and fodder for hilarity from NBA social media legend King Josiah.
In Monday’s Game 5, however, the rest of the Warriors did more than carry their own weight. They carried Curry as well.
“I think we have a really great group, smart group of individuals. Very high IQ of the game, and we just try to make it simple for each and every one of us, each teammate,” Warriors guard Gary Payton II said after the win. “Really, it’s everybody just being themselves and being unselfish and trying to make plays for themselves, but yet again, they make plays for their teammates doing that.”
The cast of supporting actors starts with Andrew Wiggins, who for the second straight game looked like the second-best player on Golden State’s roster — possibly the second-best player in the series. He put up 26 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block in a monstrous 43 minutes, once again taking the responsibility of guarding Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Wiggins was all over the floor, and scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter, capping things off with an emphatic dunk that ended any faint hope of a late Celtics comeback.
“We don’t get more excited than when Wiggs dunks on somebody and mean mugs him,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said after the game. “And that really uplifts the whole team and the Bay Area.”
Wiggins wasn’t the only one doing work while Curry struggled. Thompson had 21 points on 5-for-11 shooting from 3-point range, another in a string of clutch performances with the Warriors’ postseason lives in the balance. Draymond Green, much maligned over the past two weeks, put up eight points — nearly half of his total in the first four games of the series combined — to go along with eight rebounds and six assists, setting the tone from the opening tip with his energy and pressure on both ends of the floor.
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With Kevon Looney limited to 17 minutes due to early foul trouble, Warriors coach Steve Kerr went to smaller lineups, which allowed Payton to flourish. He showcased his unique combination of elite perimeter defense and interior scoring en route to 15 points, five rebounds and three steals on 6-for-8 shooting.
“The guy’s a workhorse. He’s incredible,” Kerr said of Payton after the Game 5 win. “Amazing athlete, great defensive player. He’s got really good instincts out there, and obviously super competitive. … He’s come a long way, and now he’s getting a chance to shine in the Finals, so it’s awesome.”
In terms of momentum, perhaps no player was more important to the Warriors’ win than Jordan Poole. The 22-year-old has endured his ups and downs during his first playoff run, but he came to the rescue at the end of a third quarter during which the Celtics had flipped a 12-point halftime deficit to a five-point lead. With the buzzer ready to sound at the end of the period, Poole launched a 38-footer that hit the glass and banked in. It was his second long buzzer-beater of the series, and it gave the Warriors a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“That was a crucial part of the game, for us to respond to that,” Kerr said. “Jordan hit a couple big ones late third and then had a good stretch to start the fourth as well. But the response to Boston’s run to me was the key to the game.”
The Warriors’ supporting cast stepping up in a huge moment isn’t an accident. Kerr has continually made a point to get the last man on the bench a handful of minutes every few games, knowing from his own experience as a role player that going too long without seeing game action not only makes you rusty but also leaves you feeling disassociated from the team. Over the last three seasons since Kevin Durant left the Warriors, critics have continually called for more straight-up pick-and-roll from Curry. Even with what was at times a young, inexperienced and ill-fitting roster, Kerr has maintained that his flowing, ball-movement oriented offense engenders the most cohesion, and therefore leads to the best results when it matters the most.
“Man, there are just a lot of great people here. Great people here that challenge you. They hold you accountable,” Wiggins said after the game. “The support system, everyone on this team, this organization, they support you and they want to see you do good, and they put you in a position to do good.”
Kerr always plays the long game, and it paid off big time in Game 5 amid his franchise player’s uncharacteristic struggles. History says that Curry will bounce back mightily in Thursday’s Game 6, but the role players have proven they can win even if he doesn’t, and that’s a troubling development for Boston.
“The fact everybody stepped up — Wiggs, JP, Klay hit some big shots, Draymond found his life and his spirit and the way he impacts the game,” Curry said. “We could withstand going 9-for-40 [on 3-pointers] as a team and me 0-for-9, and still come away with a win. Obviously, track record says I’ll shoot the ball better the next game. Looking forward to that bounce-back.”