I’ve been writing about the NBA Playoffs for a long time. In my pre-Pounding the Rock days, I wrote what I called a fake blog — because it was just an email I sent to guys I played ball with. In one of these fake blogs, I wrote about the upcoming 2013 Western Conference Finals game between OKC and the Spurs, comparing the Thunder’s exceptional young sixth man to San Antonio’s not so young sixth man:
OKC’s outstanding young guard is James Harden – and his game is a spitting image of my man Manu Ginobili. Both players are left-handed, attack the rim with abandon, step back comfortably to shoot the three, and are such good passers that they often play point guard when the team’s All-Star point guard is offside.
Harden is no longer young and Manu is retired. Unlike Manu, who never gained a pound, Harden gained several. You know the expression — he/she weighs “two bills”. Today, Harden probably weighs “two Manus”.
All that to say that I’ve been writing about the NBA playoffs long enough that I can remember when the current ball-stopping, ball-heavy version of Harden could be compared to My Man Manu outside of a joke. In all that time, I’ve never seen an NBA playoff game like Game 1 between the Celtics and Warriors. For three quarters, he swung between a comfortable victory for the Warriors and a tight game that the veterans of the home court Warriors would pull out in the end. By the end of the third quarter, it looked more like the old one, as the Warriors were leading by 12. Not only that, they were home, better rested, had no one at fault or injured, and had put in bottle the best Celtics. player Jason Tatum.
On the other bench, I’m sure Celtic manager Ime Udoka was saying things like ‘one bucket at a time, we can’t catch it all at once’ – if he did, that’s probably the only wrong thing he said all night. Indeed, no one could have predicted what happened next. The Celtics made it all up in one fell swoop as they scored their next seven (7!) three-pointers, caught the Warriors at 103, and kept pouring it. The game was effectively over with over four minutes to go.
In the fourth quarter, the Celtics shot 15 for 22 (68.2%) from the field, including 9 for 12 on three. Five Celtics have made it three, with Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Marcus Smart each making it two. Six of the three points in the fourth quarter came during a three minute stretch in which they scored twenty (20!) points on seven possessions, turning a five-point deficit with 7:54 remaining into a six-point lead with 4:49 to go.
People often forget the other end of the floor when a team goes racing. When a team beats an opponent 17-0 like the Celtics did, it means they are throwing a shutout at the other end. Perhaps even more remarkable than the 40 points the Celtics scored in the fourth, they held a full Warriors team to just 16. All of this led to the biggest fourth-quarter margin (24 points) in history. of the NBA Finals. And that story goes back much further than what I wrote about the NBA playoffs.
- My favorite uninjured ex-Spur Derrick White hosted a coming out party in front of a national audience. The Univ. of Colorado Buffalo alum scored 21 points, 5 of 8 from three, played his usual stellar defense and led all players with a plus 25 while on the floor. Derrick was so great that national publications like The Athletic devoted entire articles to him, like this one, which ended with this quote from Jaylen Brown:
“Some people stand up for moments, have the ability to top the scouting report, can just hoop,” Brown said. “Thanks to D-White, man. He can play ball.
- These playoffs were all about teams looking for favorable matchups on offense, targeting the other team’s weaker defenders. The Celtics aren’t playing below-average defenders, so they don’t have anyone to target. Warriors yes.
- On the other hand, the Warriors have several players who are not threatening to score on offense, including two of their starters, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. However, that doesn’t mean the defense can sag on these guys when they have the ball. If the defense plays away from Green or Looney, they simply set a screen for a shooter (normally Steph Curry) who then curls out of the wide-open screen to splash a three. After Curry’s incredible first quarter (six threes, 21 points), Celtics defensemen on Green and Looney stopped firing them, resulting in far fewer open looks for Warriors shooters. As a result, Curry made just one more three-pointer the rest of the game.
- In my pre-playoff article, I highlighted Looney’s offensive rebound against the Mavs and predicted he wouldn’t get as much against the biggest and most talented Celtic defensemen. At least for the first game, I was wrong. Looney had six offensive boards, and each led to a Warriors field goal. Indeed, all but one resulted in an immediate score, mostly on a pass to a Warriors shooter who then drained the shot. On the one that didn’t lead straight to a Warriors field goal, Looney got a second offensive tip on the missed shot, then he scored himself. Outstanding.
- I really missed Jeff Van Gundy in this game because his absence made Mark Jackson talk twice as much. Late in the third quarter, Jackson had this to say: “If you told me Andrew Wiggins outplayed Jason Tatum, I’d tell you the Celtics don’t have a chance. That doesn’t mean they can’t win. So what does that mean, Mark? [Editor’s Note: It must mean that a team without a chance can win! – JRW]
On behalf of all of us watching Game 2 on Sunday, I hope Van Gundy recovers quickly.