I suppose, when it’s all over, if the Warriors close this out, this Finals will be billed as an example of just how much experience in the championship round matters. It’s the easy-to-reach conclusion as the Celtics sure look like the better team most of the time. And yet they find themselves down 3-2 to the Warriors, who have, say it with me now, “BEEN HERE BEFORE.” But I’m not so convinced.
I think the Celtics are just that weird. There can’t have been a team to make it this far that can swing so wildly from looking unbeatable to looking like five guys trying to get through detention in high school in the same game. Sometimes it’s in the same quarter. Such volatility would normally always see a team eat it before this round, but the Celtics are that talented at the same time. There couldn’t have been a brighter example than Game 5 last night, which the C’s eventually lost 104-94.
In the first quarter, Boston couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow shovel. They went 0-5 from three, and about the only thing keeping them in the game was the fact that Steph Curry’s radar was off all night as he went 0-for-9 from 3-point range. They weren’t that much better in the second quarter, but finally made a few 3s and locked in on defense enough to keep the Warriors from sneaking off over the horizon.
And then in the 3rd, the quarter that has been an odyssey for them all series and most of the playoffs, they made the Warriors not just struggle to score, but struggle to get one foot in front of the other or even breathe. They outscored Golden State by 11, Jayson Tatum racked up nine points and three assists and constantly made the right read on offense setting up other scores. And the Warriors couldn’t do anything. Every Golden State possession looked like they were trying to move a couch to a third floor walk-up, while the C’s zipped and whipped the ball around on offense for a chain of open looks. Most evidenced by them going 6-for-9 from three in the stanza, and making eight straight from the second quarter.
And then they just…went away. With their foot on the gas, maybe they just took some time to enjoy the scenery and lost track. Maybe they just like to play with their food, even though they haven’t earned that right. Maybe they just can’t help but destroy their own creation to give them the furor they need to feed on. Jordan Poole hit a banked three from another zip code to end the quarter, and the Celtics apparently used that as an excuse to collapse on themselves, seemingly for the fun of it.
Tatum couldn’t find the rim, much less the net. They treated the basketball like food poisoning. Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins ran wild on them on defense. On a night when Curry didn’t make a 3 and scored only 16 points, not only did the Celtics lose, but it wasn’t all that close.
How do you do that? Perhaps the intensity that the C’s can bring on defense — and when they do they are impenetrable — is so volatile that it can’t help but spill over at times. It seems like they can go from just being in every opponent’s space constantly (and covering up every driving and passing lane) to them bitching at the refs and each other and chucking the ball all over the arena like they were Steamin’ Wille Beamon on a coke binge with nothing more than a stiff breeze. The Celtics can play with such fury at both ends in a good way, but then if even a tiny bit spills out of a bottle, it becomes a toxic danger site and you need a Hazmant suit just to watch it.
Maybe it’s how Celtics’ coach Ime Udoka has gotten them this far, because both players and coach seem to constantly be pissed at each other and doing their jobs simply out of defiance. When they point that rage at the world in general, they’re great. When it turns inward for imperceptible reasons or triggers, you get the mess of last night’s fourth. It has certainly worked, and there are long stretches when the Celtics look like the best team in the league. But they can’t seem to keep it contained for 48 minutes. There’s a point every game where it goes barf.
They could still win the series. Facing the axe sharpened their focus against both the Bucks and Heat, realizing if they devolve into bickering at everyone around them and going off the boil at both ends one more time means they’ll have to do so via text for the summer. But they’re facing a team that has made a living, and themselves an era, of being just about the most even-keeled outfit around. The Warriors don’t have to match the Celtics’ high points if they don’t match their low ones, which is how they got the lead in this series.
And they won the Steph-goes-0’fer from deep game. That’s quite the canyon they just leapt.
The Wizard of Aus!
We’ll end on this goofus from Australia. The Aussies were playing Peru yesterday in Qatar for a spot in the World Cup. And as these tense matches at the end of a long season tend to be, a turgid affair went to penalties. And Australia opted for the too-cute-by-half ploy of subbing in their backup keeper for the shootout. Except Australia tried the added wrinkle of having their backup be a complete loon:
His name is Andrew Redmayne, and this is apparently his gig. Not the saving of penalties so much as the whole rigamarole during them that puts shooters off. The look after he saved one to clinch a berth pretty much sums up any interaction anyone has ever had with an Aussie — not nearly as entertaining and funny as they think they are but just charming enough to get away with it. And that usually comes along with that sort of “dancing” Redmayne put on display, no matter what arena you run across them in, because either no one has ever told an Australian to knock it off or no Australian has ever listened.
At least he found his calling. So few of us can say that.