Veteran Warriors experiencing big NBA Finals advantage over youthful Celtics| Opinion
SAN FRANCISCO – At the start of the NBA Finals between Boston and Golden State, the Celtics’ inexperience vs. the Warriors’ experience at this stage of the postseason was a storyline.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said the experience mattered.
“It does help to have been here before, to just feel it and know what's coming,” he said. “The only thing to do is just focus on the game and, when you're away from it, try not to get too wrapped up in anything regarding the game. Read a book, watch a movie, take a walk, do something other than stare at all the media stuff.”
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said it wasn’t a big deal that none of his players had played in the Finals.
“Once you get out of the initial media circus and the intensity and how everything is much more exaggerated,” he said. “Obviously, it's not much different when you get on the court. You have guys that are young but have been through a few Eastern Conference finals already, and our path this year, you know, two Game 7s and playing some high-level teams and taking a tough route, I think that's prepared us more than anything.”
It’s about what you expected both coaches to say as they looked for any slight advantage, real or not.
Boston discarded the topic with Game 1 victory and then took a 2-1 series lead.
However, as this series moves to Game 6 on Thursday in Boston, where the Warriors have a chance to win their fourth championship in eight seasons, experience has played a determining role.
In the fourth quarter of Game 4, the Warriors outscored the Celtics 28-19, and in the fourth quarter of Game 5, they outscored Boston 29-20. Both games were one-point contests headed into the fourth quarter.
With the game on the line, Golden State executed better, ran better offense, played better defense, made fewer mistakes and prospered while Boston withered.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kerr know what’s required in late-game situations. The moment isn’t overwhelming. They may not make the right play every time, but they’re familiar with the scenarios.
“I thought that was the most important part of the game tonight because we had a 12-point lead at the half, and they came and just stormed right through us in that third quarter for the first, whatever it was, eight, nine minutes,” Kerr said.
The Warriors wasted a 51-39 halftime lead and led just 75-74 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“And that was a crucial part of the game for us to respond to that. … The response to Boston's run to me was the key to the game,” Kerr said.
The Warriors handled the rough stretches. The Celtics have not.
In the fourth quarter of the past two games, the Celtics are 11-for-36 from the field, including 6-for-21 on 3s, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 6-for-21 from the field. Their fourth-quarter efficiency in two consecutive losses is dreadful, scoring just 84.8 points and allowing 123.9 points per 100 possessions.
The Warriors are shooting 22-for-44 from the field, and while just 5-for-17 on 3s in the past two games, they have worked over the Celtics inside the arc.
Curry, Thompson and Green have had an influence on their teammates who don’t have that Finals experience, specifically Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II.
Curry, Thompson and Green have 20 Finals victories, second most by a trio behind the 22 from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper. They’re ahead of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“I feel like you embrace the fact that even if it's not pretty, you can still win the game, and that's all that matters,” Curry said. “There are a lot of guys you could point at that made an impact in those moments during the game where we really grabbed momentum and responded to their runs and all that type of stuff.
“Might not be the most free-flowing situation or the prettiest high-level skill out there, but it's just grinding it out. That's what the Finals is all about.”
Kerr was calm in the moment, having been in these situations so many times. That’s not to say Udoka isn’t calm. Kerr made a lineup switch in Game 4, inserting Otto Porter Jr. into the starting lineup and bringing Kevon Looney in off the bench, and the Warriors are receiving more contributions from more players than Boston.
Just before the fourth quarter started, Kerr told ABC’s Lisa Salters, “We’re right where we need to be.”
Kerr and the Warriors have been here before, and it shows.