January 31, 2023

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Streaky Celtics hit cold spot at bad time in Game 5 loss

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, left, drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, middle, as forward Jayson Tatum (0) blocks Curry during the first half of Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals in San Francisco [Source: AP]

The Golden State Warriors are one win away from a seventh NBA title after Andrew Wiggins inspired his team to a 104-94 win over the Boston Celtics.

The Warriors lead the series 3-2 and can claim a fourth title in eight years with victory in game six of the best-of-seven contest in Boston on Thursday.

Wiggins led Golden State with 26 points while Klay Thompson added a further 21.

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But Stephen Curry, who starred with 43 points in game four, missed all nine of his three-point attempts on Tuesday.

Curry had never before gone without a three-pointer in 133 career play-off games, but Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said the player was “probably due a game like this”.

Wiggins’ performance comes 36 years after his father, Mitchell, came off the bench to lead the Houston Rockets to victory against the same opponents in game five of the 1986 NBA Finals.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Wiggins said. “It’s something I’ve worked hard for, something the team has worked hard for, so I’m excited. I can’t wait.”

He added: “We’re here and we’re hungry. The team that wants it the most is going to get it, and we want it.”

Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 27 points for the Celtics, who had led the series 2-1.

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But, as was the case in their Eastern semi-final against the Milwaukee Bucks, they now require back-to-back wins to triumph.

The Boston Celtics couldn’t make a 3-pointer to start the game and found themselves in a deep hole.

Then they couldn’t miss and turned the game around.

But when the outside shooting failed them down the stretch, the Celtics had no answer against the Golden State Warriors and now head home on the brink of elimination following a 104-94 loss in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

“For us, it’s really about consistency,” coach Ime Udoka said. “That’s the thing we’re not having throughout a full game, is consistent efforts, sustained effort, more so offensively than anything. That’s the part where we got to have carryover not only game to game but quarter to quarter, where we saw it happened in the third but not the fourth.”

The Celtics went on an outside shooting rollercoaster ride never seen before in the NBA Finals, becoming the first team ever to miss its first 12 shots from long range and then the first team to make eight straight from 3, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Celtics will look to turn things around and force a decisive seventh game on Sunday back in San Francisco but will need much more consistency from 3.

The scoreboard mirrored Boston’s outside shooting as the Celtics fell behind 16 points early when they couldn’t make a 3 and then turned things around after Jayson Tatum and Horford made back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second quarter.

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Marcus Smart added another one and then Boston made its first five 3-pointers in the third quarter — including three from Tatum — and led 66-61 after a three-point play from Grant Williams.

The Celtics then missed their next seven from long range with the key point coming at the close of the third quarter when Jaylen Brown missed a pull-up with 6 seconds left and Boston was slow to get back on defense, leading to a buzzer-beater from 3 by Jordan Poole that gave Golden State the lead.

“When we’re at our best, it’s simple ball movement,” Udoka said. “I think the third quarter showed that. The drive and kick was beautiful, was working, getting guys wide-open shots. I don’t know if it was fatigue affects the decision making a little bit there, or just physically don’t have the burst to finish it off.”

Boston’s frustration boiled over early in the fourth quarter starting when Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer on a play the Celtics wanted a push-off called. Udoka, who got a technical early, got heated with official Tony Brothers during a timeout and it just built from there.

Smart got called for a technical foul of his own on the next possession and then was called for an offensive foul on the inbound pass and a delay of game warning. Poole made a basket at the other end and Boston’s five-point from the third quarter turned into an 85-74 deficit.

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By the time Tatum broke the late-game cold spell, it was too late for the Celtics, who spent much of the fourth quarter complaining.

“Not our best moment,” Horford said. “I feel like we’ve been able to fend those things off, especially throughout the playoffs. For whatever reason tonight I feel like it got to us. It’s one of those things that we kind of brought it back. We were able to focus back in, but we can never let that get to us. We can’t let that affect our game, the way that things are being played.”