On Friday night, with a TD Garden crowd roaring and rollicking and all but tasting a looming championship, Stephen Curry reminded Boston and the basketball world that he and his team are still here. The superstar was once again the best player on the court, and his 43-point masterpiece led the Warriors to a 107-97 win that tied the NBA Finals at 2.
Game 5 will be played in San Francisco on Monday night. Golden State has won at least one road game in 27 consecutive series.
On Friday, the Warriors outscored the Celtics, 58-43, in the second half and closed the game with a commanding 17-3 run. Golden State out-rebounded Boston, 55-42, including 16 offensive rebounds.
It was another disappointing night for Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum, who made 8 of 23 shots, scored 23 points, and committed six turnovers. Boston coughed up 16 as a team.
“It could have been an easier road, obviously, if you get the win tonight,” coach Ime Udoka said. “But it is what it is. We’re 2-2 now. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before. Keep your head up and let’s go get one on the road.”
Observations from the game:
⋅ After the Celtics took a 94-90 lead on a Marcus Smart 3-pointer with 5:18 left, they became especially reliant on long-range shots. They missed six jumpers in a row, including five 3-pointers. Golden State’s 10-0 run during that time wasn’t exactly an eruption, but it was helped along by Boston’s shot selection and stagnancy.
“We did get some good shots off,” Udoka said, “but we would like to get a little bit more downhill and get some things to the rim and kick out.”
⋅ Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a surprising lineup adjustment, inserting forward Otto Porter for big man Kevon Looney. The Celtics crushed the Warriors on the offensive glass in Game 3, and Looney is by far Golden State’s best rebounder, so on the surface it appeared to be an unusual choice.
Kerr was clearly hoping to spread out Boston’s double-big lineup with some extra shooting, perhaps creating openings elsewhere. But in the first stint, it didn’t do much. Williams gobbled up a pair of quick offensive rebounds, converting one and drawing a shooting foul on the other. When Looney checked in about five minutes into the game, Golden State trailed by six points.
Porter played nine minutes in the first half and did not register a point, assist, or rebound. But by game’s end, Looney had played a series-high 28 minutes and gobbled up 11 rebounds.
“I didn’t play him enough in Game 3,” Kerr said. “That was my mistake. It was important to get him out there, and he had a huge impact.”
⋅ The early offensive boards were a big part of Robert Williams’s fast start. He swatted one Curry layup attempt into the front row, made the Warriors change their minds about several others, and kept plenty of missed chances alive. He also fired a perfect pass to Grant Williams for a last-second 3-pointer to end the first.
It was no coincidence that the Warriors quickly went on a 17-6 run when he checked out for the first time, and Boston answered with a 10-4 burst once Williams returned. He had 10 rebounds less than midway through the second quarter, but he was mostly neutralized in the second half, and in the fourth quarter appeared to tweak his troublesome left knee when he landed awkwardly. He hobbled up and down the court for a few minutes before checking out with 3:41 left.
Afterward, Udoka said he was unaware of any new injury issues.
⋅ Curry insisted that he would play after suffering a foot injury in the fourth quarter of Golden State’s Game 3 loss. That part wasn’t surprising, given the stakes, but it was unclear if he would be limited in any way. Then the game began, and it was hard to tell he was ever injured at all.
Curry exploded off of screens, danced through the paint, and showed no signs of having any issue. When he was injured, there was a sense that the Warriors’ hopes might have vanished, but it did not take him long to show that this would remain a significant challenge for Boston.
“We were there,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “He’s a great player; he made shots. He made a lot of the shots where we were contesting from behind. We had somebody there and he was just making them. That’s what he does.”
⋅ Turnovers have been the Celtics’ undoing during these playoffs, and the first half was certainly not encouraging. Boston had 10 of them before the break, most often caused by telegraphed passes and drives to nowhere. Throughout the game, Tatum was the primary culprit. When things go poorly, he’s had trouble stopping his turnover issues from snow-balling.
On Friday, he reverted to waving his arms at the officials after some of his miscues rather than hurrying back on defense. This was his seventh game in these playoffs with six or more turnovers.
“Him being the player he is, these are the moments where he has to come alive and figure it out,” Smart said. “He will. We don’t know when it is, but we’re sure it’s going to happen soon, we’re ready for it, and we’re here to back him up.”
⋅ Tatum is now shooting just 33.4 percent from the field during this series. Udoka said Tatum is sometimes over-penetrating as he tries to either get to the rim or make plays for his teammates, but in the process he may be passing up chances elsewhere. The mid-range jumper is sometimes frowned upon, but it still has its place.
“Nothing wrong with the floater, mid-range pull-up to get yourself going, especially when the crowd is sitting there at the rim,” Udoka said.
⋅ Draymond Green missed a wide open putback layup pretty badly in the second quarter, and his offensive struggles appeared to seep in. Twice in the second half, he passed up open looks at layups to spray perimeter passes. But he did gobble up a huge offensive rebound with his team clinging to a three-point lead with 1:14 left before finding Looney for a layup.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.