Heading into yesterday’s pivotal Game Five of the National Basketball Association Finals, the narrative stayed the same: The Celtics remained overwhelming favorites despite the emphatic victory the Warriors carved on the road in the previous match. Given the way the series had unfolded, it seemed that yet another sterling performance from two-time Most Valuable Player awardee Stephen Curry was in the offing, especially with a capacity crowd at Chase Center expected to cheer on his every move. Evidently, pundits didn’t believe those around him could provide the requisite support to overcome the more even roster of their opponents.
As things turned out, conventional wisdom could not have been more mistaken. Curry didn’t play well at all; he turned in an extremely disappointing 16 points on 22 shots, with all nine taken from beyond the arc failing to puncture the hoop. Even as he proved decidedly mortal yesterday, however, his supposedly wanting teammates did not just show up. They thrived, and more — make that much, much more. Significant contributions were made by much-maligned Andrew Wiggins, comebacking Klay Thompson, proud Draymond Green, and every other Warrior who saw action with double-figure minutes. And the result was as much a statement as a testament to the value of a heady mix of experience and confidence.
Make no mistake. The Celtics tried to steal a triumph in hostile territory, and, for a while there, it looked as if they had more than enough grit to overcome their woeful shooting. They fell behind early, but managed to pull ahead in the middle of the set-to. Unfortunately, they proved too careless with the ball to maintain momentum. They had long stretches of aimless offense, and, by the time crunchtime came, they were too far behind to mount any semblance of competition.
It’s not over yet, of course. Game Six will be at TD Garden, and the Celtics figure to lean on the same type of support from the home crowd that the Warriors just did. There’s just one problem, though; they have played worse in familiar ground. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to exceed themselves with their backs against the wall. Then again, it’s fair to wonder if they can live up to billing given their seeming inability to be greater than the sum of their parts. If there’s any consolation, they will have two more days to figure things out. Else, a long vacation filled with What Ifs awaits.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.