• Full coverage: 2022 NBA Finals
Boston— The Warriors will return home on Friday, awaiting a military parade or Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It all depends on whether they can accomplish two daunting tasks in one night: win a third straight game in these Finals and do it at TD Garden.
Both are doable, unless the Celtics have a firm grip on basketball — turnovers have devastated them recently — and there’s more to come from their rotations, starting with Jayson Tatum.
It’s one of four things to look for in Game 6 on Thursday (9 ET, ABC), a life-or-death scenario for the home team:
1. History says the Celtics have a hard time getting out
So the Celtics are walking a tightrope again, the wind is spinning, there is no safety net, and there is no tomorrow. That’s life when you witness doom three times this postseason and live to tell you.
The experience gave them hope, and if nothing else, come on. They went 3-0 in the playoffs against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, winning two games, along with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and two of those three.
“We won those games,” Tatum said. “I feel like myself and everyone else did what it takes to win games. That’s the mentality you have to have.”
So, what lessons can the Celtics take from these games through Thursday and Sunday if necessary? Well, they need Tatum to rise like he did in Game 6 against the Bucks, when he exploded for 46 points. They could use someone in the supporting cast to create a surprise, like Grant Williams did when he made seven 3-pointers the next game. They could also use a little luck, like when Jimmy Butler’s potential game-winner bounced back in the closing seconds of Game 7 against Miami.
Without any or all of that, the Celtics are sure to fall off a tightrope this time around. They know this.
“We’ve been at our best when we’ve been in this position before,” Williams said. “That’s where you want to go.”
“We beat three knockouts and won some Game 7s, but you can’t rely on that,” coach Ime Udoka said.
2. It’s not too late for Clay
Thompson spent the entire series — actually the entire playoffs — expressing how happy he was, describing how far he’d come from the dreary days of his recovery from injury, all of which were true. A year ago, Thompson didn’t even play. Now he’s in the Finals, running wild on the court.
He had some flashback moments in the days before the injury that gave him hope and belief that the best was yet to come. Most probably thought that would be next season. Thompson is considering, if necessary, a Game 6 or 7 this season, despite shooting 38 percent from the field this series.
Whenever a Game 6 is brought up in his name, it instinctively means his career night in Oklahoma City in 2016, when he scored 41 points (including a playoff-record 11). More recently, in another Game 6, he helped the Grizzlies finish last month with 30 points.
Even on the night he had a physical problem — a knee injury in Game 6 of the Finals against the Raptors — Thompson scored 30 points in 32 minutes and tried to limp back into the game.
“I realized I was doing really well in Game 6,” he said. “I don’t know how long this will last. Hope to pass [Thursday]. I want to live up to it. At the same time, I don’t want to go out there and play hero ball…I just want to have a good night and win the game. I want to go there, play freely and trust my teammates. If I do both, great things will happen. “
It sounds like a bit of a concession, but Thompson hasn’t lacked confidence or shooting in this series. Expect him to be strong when necessary, especially if the game is going on, if the game is drawing to a close in the final moments.
3. Protecting the ball starts with Marcus Smart
Smart is a very good player, almost an All-Star on some nights, well-respected in the league, strong-willed, tenacious, and clearly a good defensive player. However, he has not consistently demonstrated the ability to be a natural and instinctive point guard.
This is not a shocking revelation. The Celtics want Kyrie Irving not Smart. Then they wanted Kemba Walker instead of Smart. When those two didn’t last for various reasons, Smart became the choice, partly because of attrition.
The Celtics reached the Finals this year with Smart. what does that mean. But Smart isn’t a pure point guard, he’ll create shots for his teammates to make them better. In 23 playoff games this season, he has only 3 assists in double figures. He lets Tatum and Brown create their own shots most of the time. This usually works because they are progressive playmakers themselves, but when Tatum and Brown face a top defensive team like Golden State, they are often forced to create, which is what the Celtics committed. So many wrong reasons. They lack a point guard who can make things easier for teammates.
That’s why the Warriors continue to double-team Tatum, who gets flustered and a poor passer when trapped, and doesn’t get enough open shots.
“They tried to take him out at some point,” Udoka said. “But it’s his responsibility to read and understand that he can sometimes be doubled down and become a bait, and when that happens, get everyone involved and make them pay.”
But better possession starts with Smart and Tatum. Celtics turnovers are fairly common among the primary ball handlers in the rotation.
“This is where we need to improve as a team,” Grant Williams said. “Take care of the ball and you win the game. Don’t take care of the ball and you lose the game.”
4. Will the Celtics or Warriors finally reach their level?
Strange to say, but five games into the Finals, we still haven’t seen the best performance from either team. That’s a stark contrast to the early postseason, when the Warriors and Celtics were at full capacity for at least a few games. But this series? In every game, both have shown deficiencies, and none of the key players in the rotation have been present or half-court. Is this finally the night when that trend ends?
Here’s what the Warriors have been missing: Draymond Green completes six clutch stops, keeps Robert Williams III away from rebounds and once scored in double figures; Jordan Poole’s scoring drive; Klay Thompson ) pulling his Splash Brothers weight; and Kevin Looney, who had a career night in the Western Conference finals.
Here’s what the Celtics are missing: Tatum’s efficiency; Brown’s better shot selection; Smart’s solid decision-making and the presence of Al Horford, who hasn’t had an impact since Game 1.
This doesn’t start to mention the sketchy on the bench. Overall, the Celtics-Warriors game, while fun at times and suspenseful at times, is still waiting for a team to fully function and show dominance. They’re all capable; they’ve shown it, just not against each other. It’s hard to imagine the Finals ending without anyone’s A-game.
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Sean Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years.you can email him Find his profile here then follow him Twitter.
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