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One key play allowed the Warriors to regain control in Game 4

The Celtics appeared well on their way to getting a grip on the Finals, but things changed quickly in the fourth quarter.

2022 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After the Warriors’ disheartening loss in Game Three, I am sure many fans agreed with Jeff Van Gundy: How were the Warriors supposed to beat a team that was both bigger and more athletic than the Warriors? My friend Tim, a knowledgeable basketball fan, responded to my Game Three recap with four words: “The series is over.” I of course reminded him that the series was not over, and that they were in fact going to be playing Game Four in Boston on Friday night. I even sent him the television listing, so he knew he could watch the game on ABC. It turns out that the series was not over, and it is even more “not over” now that the Warriors won Game Four.

It looked like Warriors coach Steve Kerr might have channeled John Belushi of Animal House and reminded the Warriors before Game Four that it was not over after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

The Warriors won because of Steph Curry’s awesome 43-point, 10-rebound game. We all know that. But I want to focus on a single defensive play by the weakest defender on the floor. Absent that play, the Warriors almost certainly lose the game, go down 3-1, and almost certainly also lose the series. But because Jordan Poole moved his feet and got to exactly the right spot at the right time, the Warriors did not lose and remain very much alive in the series. The play didn’t change the score, doesn’t show up in the box score, highlights, or even in the play by play:

At the start of the sequence described above, the score was 91-86 in favor of Boston. If the Celtics had scored, they would have gone up 7, or even 8, putting a ton of pressure on the Warriors. After they didn’t score, the Warriors scored on a Klay Thompson turn-around jumper in the lane (lead down to three!), got a stop when Klay sniffed out a Jayson Tatum back-cut and forced him to miss a contested drive, and scored again on an Andrew Wiggins put-back (lead down to one!). After a Marcus Smart three put the lead back to four, the Warriors scored the next ten points to go up 100-94 with 1:42 left and wound up winning by 10.

So that’s the set-up for and the result of The Play. Let’s go back to the top.

After Tatum blocks Curry’s shot, Curry gets the ball back, it swings to Wiggins who misses a contested three, and Jaylen Brown corrals the rebound. The Celtics have the ball, at home, with a chance to push the lead back to 7 or 8.

After Tatum passes the ball to Smart on the left wing, Robert Williams sets a great flare screen for Tatum, who catches the ball on the right wing with 8 seconds on the shot clock. The flare screen forces Kevon Looney to switch onto Tatum, but Looney must come towards Tatum at a bad angle. Tatum drives right past Looney with a right-handed dribble headed for a likely dunk, perhaps leading to an and-one for three points. Jordan Poole — the weakest defender on the court — does exactly the right thing: He leaves Derrick White on the low left block and slides directly into Tatum’s path, preventing him from going any further. Klay helps the helper and zones up the weak side preventing a pass to either White or cross-court to Brown.

Poole’s aggressive defense forces Tatum to reverse course, with the shot clock leaking away. He dribbles off a Smart screen, and airballs a rushed and contested long two over Curry. Shot clock violation — Warriors ball!

Because Poole did exactly the right thing at the right time, the Celtics do not go up 7 or 8, and the Warriors’ next trip down court cuts the lead to much more manageable 3. The rest, just like when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, is history.

Other thoughts

  • While Draymond Green did not rediscover his internal Incredible Hulk, he played much better than he had in Game Three. While he still cannot score, he had 9 boards, 8 assists and 4 steals. Much of the narrative, both by the ABC crew during the game and in post-game analysis, focused on Steve Kerr’s decision to sit Draymond for key stretches of the game, including the key stretch of the fourth quarter in which the Warriors came back and took the lead. Kerr also utilized a very “college coach” tactic of subbing Green and Poole in and out for offense and defense, even using a time-out late to do so. Possibly because of the players’ egos at the NBA level, NBA coaches don’t do this nearly as much as college coaches. Kerr also changed his starting line-up, replacing Looney with Otto Porter, Jr., but still played Looney the bulk of the minutes. Ego-less coaching. As Patty Mills would say — Good on ya’ Steve!
  • Kerr’s decision was especially newsworthy because Draymond is part of a historical Big Three, tied for a record with my favorite Big Three ever:
  • If the Warriors had not come back and won, Tatum may have been in line for a Finals MVP trophy, even though he has not really been that good. After an 8-23 performance in Game Four (with only one fourth quarter hoop), he’s made barely a third of his shots in the series (28-82) and is closing in on a postseason record for turnovers. He had 6 more on Friday. In my view, and assuming Curry continues to play so well, Curry should be MVP regardless of which team wins.
  • Before the series, SpursNation favored the Warriors to win 52% - 48%. After the first two games, and after Boston had taken home-court advantage by splitting the first two games in California, SpursNation heavily favored the Celtics to win 67% - 33%. Golden State has re-taken home-court, Klay and Draymond are playing somewhat better, the Celtics blew yet another fourth quarter lead. What say you now?

Poll

Who do you think will win the Finals now?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Golden State Warriors
    (128 votes)
  • 35%
    Boston Celtics
    (69 votes)
197 votes total Vote Now