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Another streaky game led to another championship for the Warriors

Just like the other five games, Game Six was another streaky win by the team with biggest run.

Game Six of the NBA Finals was a microcosm of the entire series in several ways. Most prominently, just like the previous five games, Game Six was a series of runs. One of the teams would dominate the other, and then the tide would turn, and the dominating team would be dominated by the other. This scenario started in the first game of the Finals, when the Celtics turned around a double-digit deficit at the end of the third quarter by dominating the fourth quarter. The Celtics turned that double-digit deficit into a 12-point win, 120-108. That also set the tone for the series in which each win was by double-digits — 12, 16, 16, 10, 10 and 13.

Game Six started out with the Celtics jumping ahead 14-2, only for the Warriors to go on a 21-0 run, something that has never happened before in a Finals game. That run was part of a 52-19 run that reminded me of the 58-22 run by the Spurs in the clinching game of the 2014 Redemption Finals. The Spurs run was over 24 minutes, or half of a game, which also means that it was the equivalent of a 116-44 game — a remarkable run considering the opponent was the defending champion Heat led by LeBron James.

The Warriors run in Game Six started with eight minutes left in the first quarter and ended with two minutes left in the first half, meaning it lasted for 16 minutes of game time, or one-third of a game. Applying the same math we applied to the 2014 Spurs run, the Warriors’ run was the equivalent to a 156-57 game. However, because it lasted only 16 minutes, and ended before halftime, the Celtics had plenty of time to repeat their Game One comeback. They even started to do that at the end of the first half, cutting the 54-33 lead at the end of the Warriors’ run to 54-39 with a 6-0 mini-run of their own.

Similar runs happened in the second half. The Celtics scored the first five points, extending their run to 11-0. After the Warriors pushed the lead back to 22, the Celtics surged back again with a 15-2 run, cutting the lead to single digits near the end of the third quarter, 74-65. The Warriors contributed to all this by missing ten straight three-pointers, repeating similar cold stretches in earlier games. After the Warriors pushed the lead back to 14 with seven minutes left, the Celtics had one more 8-2, ninety-second mini-run, cutting the lead to only 8 with 5:35 left. This could have led to a stunning comeback for the Celtics, and a historic and devastating collapse by the Warriors. Alas, a few more Warriors hoops and Celtic turnovers thwarted this final comeback, leading to much Sad Water for both teams — tears of joy for Steph Curry and the Warriors, tears of frustration for the Celtics and the home crowd.

The last time the Celtics lost a Finals game at home was in 1985 to the Lakers. While 34-year old Curry was the Finals MVP in this one, he was not nearly as old as the Finals MVP in 1985: 38-year old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 26/9/5 for the six games. Remarkable. I don’t think we will see another 38-year old Finals MVP again. But we might just see a 35-year old Finals MVP next year if the Warriors are able to repeat this magical playoff run, with another ring for Curry’s hand.

Other thoughts

  • Another similarity between Game Six and the rest of the Finals: More shot opportunities for the Warriors. As pointed out in an earlier Finals post, having fewer turnovers and more offensive rebounds translates directly to more opportunities to score. In Game Six, the Warriors had 7 fewer turnovers than the Celtics (15 to 22) and 4 more offensive rebounds (15 to 11) — Kevon Looney alone had 6 in his 21 minutes on the floor. The turnover/offensive rebound disparity translates into 11 more opportunities to score, and the Warriors in fact had 12 more shots from the floor (92-80). Because NBA teams average about one point per shot, those 12 extra shots should lead to about 12 extra points. Lo and behold, the final spread was thirteen points, 103-90. As a great man once said, “This ain’t rocket science”.
  • I realized watching this series that neither team has a traditional point guard. Neither Marcus Smart nor Curry are one. Smart is more of a caretaker than a player who dictates the action. While Curry brings the ball up court, he primarily sets up his teammates with his off-ball action, not with the dribble. Off the team’s benches, Jordan Poole and Peyton Pritchard look for their own shot first, while Derrick White is more of a combo guard than a true point. The closest player to a traditional point might be Draymond Green, who pushes the ball up court on the dribble better than anyone else on either teams, and is also an excellent passer.
  • While Jason Tatum was a well-deserving All-NBA player in the regular season, he will have a long off-season looking back at the playoffs, and especially the Finals. For the playoffs, he set a dubious record with 100 turnovers over the Celtics’ 24 games, which is over 4 per game. In Game Six, he went 6 for 18 from the floor for only 13 points without a single free throw taken. In my notes, I wrote: “I never felt like, ‘Here comes Tatum!’” I was right, he never did. In my view, the incredible individual defense by Andrew Wiggins and the team defensive scheme by the Warriors wore down and eventually broke Tatum’s spirit, with plays like this:
  • One more thought: Because I am on the West Coast, I record the games and generally start watching about 45 minutes after the game actually started. For Game Six, just as the game began for me, I got a text from my buddy Tim — the same guy who announced the series was “over” after the Celtics went up 2-1 after Game Three. Tim’s 6:45 p.m. text this time: “NOW! this series is over”. I had no idea what this spoiler alert referred to, but I assumed it meant the Warriors had jumped out to a big early lead. Imagine my confusion when that didn’t happen, and the Celtics, not the Warriors went ahead big to start the game. I feared that Tim’s text meant that Curry had suffered some horrific injury, dooming the Warriors. Luckily, Curry did not injure himself and the Warriors went on a big run, highlighted by a three-pointer by Draymond Green — which I then assumed was the moment Tim sent his text. If Draymond starts making threes after having gone 0-fer for the Finals, the series would in fact be over. And so it was.