SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors were cooking. They had the Boston Celtics — whose young core of players are getting their first taste of the NBA Finals — on the ropes. They had a chance to land a knockout blow.
It’s the kind of opportunity that the Warriors had created and taken countless times throughout their six trips to the NBA Finals over the last eight years. No one can demoralize a team like Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors.
And sure enough, they were on one of their patented third-quarter runs in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals. A two-point halftime deficit had been turned into a 15-point lead, and the Celtics were rushing, spinning, panicking.
Boston’s star wing, Jayson Tatum, 24 years old, had just clanked a wide-open 3-pointer at the top of the key. The Warriors, who had been turning defense into great offense all quarter, were poised to run the other way.
The death knell was imminent.
And then 22-year-old Jordan Poole, tasked with pushing the team up the floor, handed the ball right back to Tatum. Boston laid it in and stopped the Warriors’ avalanche of momentum. The Celtics gave themselves a chance going into the fourth quarter.
Man, did they ever take it.
Boston’s 17-0 fourth-quarter run stole Game 1 of the series from the Warriors, 120-108. They outscored Golden State 40-16 in the final frame.
It was a jaw-dropping turnaround. The Warriors were, well, Warriored, as Boston knocked down 3 after 3 with beautiful ball movement and swarming defense.
Warriors forward Draymond Green said after Game 1 that the Warriors “dominated the game for the first 41, 42 minutes.”
I’m not sure that’s true of the game I watched, but regardless, an NBA game is 48 minutes.
Yes, the Warriors had Steph Curry and a bit of Andrew Wiggins, too, but that wasn’t nearly enough when the final buzzer sounded.
In those full 48 minutes, Boston shot better, they played better defense, their lineups went deeper and they were the more composed team in Game 1.
That’s an inauspicious start for Golden State.
Of course, the Warriors’ predicament can be overcome. The Warriors’ 15-point lead was no fluke, either. Boston did not crack any sort of code. They are not heading towards a sweep.
But the issues that showed up for the Warriors and helped them lose Game 1 — the things they can control — are not novel.
And for them to spiral the way they did Thursday puts serious pressure on the Dubs heading into Game 2 on Sunday.
It puts serious pressure on the Warriors’ youngest rotation player, Poole, who was downright unplayable on Thursday.
He finished Game 1 with four turnovers and only two made field goals. Boston outscored the Warriors by 19 when he was on the floor.
So while Curry dominated for the first three quarters, Poole’s negated the superstar’s good work.
And that third-quarter turnover — that lifeline to the Celtics — was a microcosm of his game. It seemed significant at the moment. (The Warriors were doing fine with Poole struggling!) But it proved monumental after Boston made their first seven 3-pointers of the fourth quarter.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr needs to wear this loss, too. He’s been brilliant this postseason, but some of his lineup choices in Game 1 seemed to be more about loyalty than the matchups. The vast majority of the Warriors’ minutes were played with two non-shooters on the floor.
Great defenses, like Boston’s, don’t necessarily shut down the opposing star. No, what they do is force the ball into the hands of players they want to shoot.
For Boston, that’s Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney.
— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) June 3, 2022
Thursday, that trio took nearly a quarter of the Warriors’ shots (20-of-88) and made only 30 percent with Green going 2-for-12.
Boston will try to get that trio to repeat that output three more times. It’s on Kerr to change his rotations to mitigate the risk those non-shooters present to the Dubs’ offense.
But, those struggles from non-shooters could be negated if Poole is a shooter moving forward in this series.
It’s not a savory truth, but that doesn’t undercut the veracity: The Warriors need Poole to be a positive-impact player to win a title.
This has been true for the first three rounds of the postseason, but it’s particularly true against the Celtics, whose defense can jam up the Warriors’ motion offense with relative ease.
The Warriors were far more direct in their offensive attack in Game 1. Curry was handling the ball and working off high screens, taking advantage of the Celtics’ drop coverage to the tune of an NBA-record six first-quarter 3-pointers.
Poole is the only other Warrior who can run pick-and-roll like that. He is, truly, great at it.
So for him to be downright incoherent with the rock is jarring.
The Warriors need to hope that it was merely the bright lights of basketball’s biggest stage that blinded the 22-year-old Michigan Wolverine. There’s merit to that argument, as Poole struggled on the road late in the postseason, as you’d expect from a player his age.
“It was his first Finals game. There’s a lot of adrenaline, nerves. He’ll settle in,” Curry said.
But Boston deserves plenty of credit for Poole’s bad day, too. The Celtics are a highly physical team and they pushed the slight Poole around on both offense and defense, something we saw in the Warriors’ semifinal win over the Grizzlies.
Oh yeah, the defense. Poole was atrocious on that side of the ball Thursday. It’s been so bad for so many games in a row now that an ultimatum is necessary — if Poole is not scoring, he cannot play.
And yet there was Kerr putting him back into the game late in the fourth quarter, with the Warriors down eight points with 3:47 to play.
The Warriors still had a chance.
Boston ramped it up into another gear with Poole on the floor, outscoring Golden State 9-2 over the next three minutes, as the Warriors had to switch to a 3-2 zone defense to protect Poole.
Yes, a zone defense — one that effectively gives wing players open 3-point looks — against a team that had, to that point, made 7 of 8 3-point shots in the quarter.
That’s not a strategy for stopping Boston. That’s a prayer. Those don’t do much come the NBA Finals.
The Warriors are obviously better than some team just hoping everything will work out. Again, they had their chance to win this contest. They didn’t take it. They know that will come back to bite in the NBA Finals. That’s a lesson that Curry, Green and Klay Thompson have learned countless times over the years.
Poole was just in high school when the Dubs’ dynastic run began. Now he’s not just on this team, but a critical component of the Warriors’ championship hopes.
Is it fair for that kind of pressure to be on a 22-year-old?
Probably not. If he didn’t have such experienced teammates, you’d probably bet against him in this series.
But he does have those three teammates, and while two of them also need to up their games heading into Game 2, Poole cannot let them down again on Sunday.
Source: Paradise Post