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    Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum Could Have Had His Moment

    Tatum, the 24-year-old Boston Celtics forward, learned the hard way during the N.B.A. finals just how much it takes to be a championship-level leader.BOSTON — With a little more than a minute left in Game 6 of the N.B.A. finals, Celtics Coach Ime Udoka pulled his starters. That meant Jayson Tatum had a minute to sit by himself and feel the weight of disappointment that came with losing.“It hurts,” Tatum said. “Being with this group, the things we’ve overcome throughout the season, getting to this point. Just knowing how bad we wanted it, coming up short. It’s a terrible feeling.”He lowered his head as he spoke, staring at the table he sat behind.A few minutes before, Tatum had to endure the indignity of watching another team, Golden State, celebrate winning a championship on his home court. He politely congratulated his opponents, then walked off with a blank look on his face. When a fan reached down from the stands and grabbed the towel off his shoulders, Tatum didn’t even react.He had not been at his best during the finals, often guarded by Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins. In the clinching game, Tatum scored only 13 points with 7 assists and 3 rebounds, while committing 5 turnovers. It capped a difficult series in which he struggled to find a rhythm offensively. At 24, he is a foundational piece of Boston’s young core, and this could have been his moment.Celtics Coach Ime Udoka pulled his starters with about a minute go in Game 6. Tatum, center, bent his head down as he sat on the bench.Adam Glanzman/Getty ImagesOn June 1, the day before the finals began, Tatum spoke to the media and said he wanted to be honest.“There have been times where I questioned, am I the right kind of person to kind of lead a group like this,” he said. “You know, never, like, doubted myself, but just moments after some of those losses and the tougher parts of the season. That’s human nature to kind of question yourself.”He said it was important to “always stick to what you believe in and trust in the work that you’ve put in.”Then he went on.“You know, it can’t rain forever.”The Celtics had opened the season off-kilter, losing their first two games and, by early January, 19 more. They were 18-21 and appeared to be destined for an early off-season. But led by Tatum, they turned things around. They roared through the second half of the season and claimed the second seed in the East.The postseason looked to be a formidable challenge, but Tatum’s Celtics, the hottest team in the league, could have risen to the occasion. In the end, they didn’t get there.“One thing that he’s always done throughout the season was seeing multiple different coverages and figured it out,” Udoka said. “He did that throughout the first few series. This one was a rough one. Very consistent team that did some things to limit him and make others pay.“For him, it’s just continuing to grow and understand you’re going to see this the rest of your career. This is just a start.”Tatum already has a notable résumé. He has been named an N.B.A. All-Star for the past three seasons. This year, he was also named to the first-team All-N.B.A. For his performance against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Tatum was given the Eastern Conference finals’ Most Valuable Player Award.He averaged 26.9 points per game during the regular season and only 2.9 turnovers per game. His turnover numbers were lower than most of the players with better scoring averages than he had.When asked what the Celtics needed to improve, Tatum said: “I think just our level of poise at times throughout this series and previous series, myself included. Taking care of the ball, things like that.”For the Celtics as a whole, turnovers were a problem during the finals. Boston lost the final three games of the series, committing 15 turnovers in Game 4, another 18 in Game 5 and a painful 22 in Game 6. Golden State had its careless moments as well but responded with enough poise to recover.Golden State’s defenders, especially Andrew Wiggins, kept Tatum from scoring at will like he’s used to. He had just 13 points in Game 6.Elsa/Getty Images“It’s easy to look back and see all the things you could have done better,” Tatum said. “We tried. I know that for a fact.”To single out Tatum’s offense would be to miss some context in a series that had a defensive bent to it. Boston couldn’t score 100 points after Game 3. The Celtics held Golden State to 104.8 points per game, below its regular-season average of 111 points per game.Tatum also was able to affect the game without scoring early in the series. The Celtics scored 120 points in Game 1, their highest scoring game of the finals. Tatum added just 12 points. Golden State defenders kept Tatum uncomfortable, whether he tried to drive to the basket or shoot from outside. He began to look for his teammates instead and had 13 assists.But as the series progressed, Golden State began to take away his other options and make Boston pay for its mistakes.From Games 2 through 5, Tatum averaged 26 points per game but struggled to make a significant impact, particularly as the stakes rose.It was a departure from earlier in the playoffs. When the Celtics faced elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Tatum scored 46 points with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He shot 53.1 percent from the field that game.It was a feat that he couldn’t come close to matching against Golden State. There were even times during the finals when Tatum seemed hesitant to take a shot if it was there for him, opting to look for teammates instead. He also struggled to finish at the rim.“We all could have done things better,” Tatum said. “I feel like I could have done a lot of things better.”Tatum injured his right shoulder during the Eastern Conference finals but wouldn’t attribute his struggles to that injury. He was asked if he would need surgery and said he didn’t think he would.Rather, dejected after coming so close to winning his first championship, Tatum spoke only generally about the need for improvement and how difficult the night was.Celtics Coach Ime Udoka expressed support for Tatum, saying that he would “learn from this and figure it out.”Bob Dechiara/USA Today Sports, via ReutersHis teammates offered support.“Just gave him a hug, man,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. “I know it was a tough last game. I know, obviously, it was a game we felt like we could have won.”His coach had encouraging words, too.“The growth he showed as a playmaker this year and in certain areas, I think this is the next step for him,” Udoka said. “Figuring that out, getting to where some of the veterans are that have seen everything and took their lumps early in their careers.”He added: “High I.Q., intelligent guy that will learn from this and figure it out. I think it will propel him to go forward, definitely motivate him.” More

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    Stephen Curry Left His Critics With Nothing Else to Say

    Four N.B.A. championships. Two Most Valuable Player Awards. And yes, a finals M.V.P. Golden State’s Curry has nothing else to prove.BOSTON — A few seconds remained in Stephen Curry’s N.B.A. season when he spotted his father, Dell, sitting along one of the baselines. He went over to embrace him, then fell to the court in tears.“Surreal,” Curry said. “I just wanted to take in the moment because it was that special.”Over six games of the N.B.A. finals, Curry had supplied Golden State with a narrow range of feats that ranged from the extraordinary to the sublime. He squeezed past walls of defenders for up-and-under layups, and backpedaled for fadeaway jumpers. He enthralled some fans while demoralizing others. He sought the spotlight, then delivered.He effectively turned the court into his personal theater and the Celtics into his helpless foils, delivering performance after performance in a two-week run whose only flaw was that nearly everyone could begin to anticipate the ending — with Curry exiting the stage as a champion again.After Golden State defeated Boston, 103-90, on Thursday to clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, Curry, 34, reflected on the long journey back to the top: the injuries and the lopsided losses, the doubters and the uncertainty. He also recalled the exact moment he started preparing for the start of this season — 371 days ago.“These last two months of the playoffs, these last three years, these last 48 hours — every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” Curry said, “and you’re carrying all of that on a daily basis to try to realize a dream and a goal like we did tonight.”“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship. Two seasons ago, Golden State had the worst record in the N.B.A.Paul Rutherford/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe numbers tell one story, and they are worth emphasizing. For the series, Curry averaged 31.2 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. He was the unanimous selection as the finals’ most valuable player.“He carried us,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said, “and we’re here as champions.”But there was an artistry to Curry’s work in the series, too, and it was a profound reminder of everything he has done to reshape the way fans — and even fellow players — think about the game. The way he stretches the court with his interplanetary shooting. The way he uses post players to create space with pick-and-rolls. The way he has boosted the self-esteem of smaller players everywhere.“When I go back home to Milwaukee and watch my A.A.U. team play and practice, everybody wants to be Steph,” Golden State’s Kevon Looney said. “Everybody wants to shoot 3s, and I’m like: ‘Man, you got to work a little harder to shoot like him. I see him every day.’ ”For two seasons, of course, in the wake of the Golden State’s catastrophic, injury-marred trip to the 2019 finals, some of that joy was missing. The Warriors scuffled through a slow rebuild.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like,” Curry said of winning his fourth championship, “but it hits different.”Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe team reassembled the pieces this season, but there were no guarantees. Curry missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a sprained left foot, then aggravated the injury in Game 3 of the finals. All he did in Game 4 was score 43 points to help Golden State even the series at two games apiece.He showed that he was mortal in Game 5, missing all nine of his 3-point attempts, but his supporting cast filled the void. Among them: Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, who developed their games during Golden State’s playoff-free hiatus and were indispensable this postseason.“Our young guys carried the belief that we could get back to this stage and win,” Curry said. “And even if it didn’t make sense to anybody when we said it, all that stuff matters.”For Game 6 on Thursday, Curry broke out the full buffet. He used a pump fake to send the Celtics’ Al Horford flying toward an expensive row of seats. He baited defenders into traps and zipped passes to cutting teammates. And after a big flurry in the third quarter, he glared at the crowd and pointed at his ring finger. (Translation: He was ready for more jewelry.)Curry began to get emotional when Boston Coach Ime Udoka summoned his reserves from the bench with just over a minute remaining, conceding the series and the championship. Standing alone at midcourt, Curry seemed to be laughing and crying at the same time, a euphoric mix of feelings.“You imagine what the emotions are going to be like, but it hits different,” he said.After missing all nine of his 3-point attempts in the previous game, Curry was 6 of 11 from deep in Game 6. He scored 34 points.Elsa/Getty ImagesIn a sports world consumed by debate shows, uninformed opinions and hot takes on social media, two asterisks — unfair ones — seemed to trail Curry like fumes. The first was that he had neither helped his team win a title without Kevin Durant nor defeated a finals opponent who was at full strength. The second was that he had not been named a finals M.V.P.Whether he cared or not, Curry effectively quashed both of those narratives against the Celtics, a team that had all of its young stars in uniform and even had Marcus Smart, the league’s defensive player of the year, spending good portions of the series with his arms tucked inside Curry’s jersey.For his part, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said there was only one achievement missing from Curry’s résumé: an Olympic gold medal. (It should be noted that Kerr coaches the U.S. men’s national team.)“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Kerr said, deadpan. “Honestly, the whole finals M.V.P. thing? I guess his career has been so impeccable, and that’s the only thing we can actually find. So it’s great to check that box for him. But it’s really hard for me to think that’s actually been held against him.”After the game, as Golden State’s players and coaches began to gather on a stage for the trophy presentation, Curry hugged each of them, one by one.“Back on top, 30!” Looney said, referring to Curry’s uniform number.Afterward, as Curry made his way toward a courtside tunnel, lingering fans clamored to get closer to the court, closer to Curry, before he was disappeared from view. He chomped on a victory cigar as he held his finals M.V.P. trophy aloft, pushing it skyward once, twice, three times.No one could miss it. More

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    Golden State Beats Boston Celtics to Win NBA Championship

    BOSTON — It turns out the dynasty had just been paused.Golden State has won the N.B.A. championship again, four seasons after its last one. It is the franchise’s seventh title and the fourth for its three superstars: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who have spent the past decade growing up together, winning together and, over the past three years, learning how fragile success can be.On Thursday, they defeated the Boston Celtics, 103-90, in Game 6 of the N.B.A. finals. They won the series, 4-2, and celebrated their clinching victory on the parquet floor of TD Garden, below 17 championship banners, in front of a throng of disappointed partisans.With 24 seconds left in the game, Curry found his father near the baseline, hugged him and shook as he sobbed in his arms. Then Curry turned back toward the game. He put his hands on his head and squatted down, then fell onto the court.“I think I blacked out,” Curry said later.He thought about the past few months of the playoffs, about the past three years, about the people who didn’t think he could be here again.“You get goose bumps just thinking about all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here,” Curry said.Curry, who scored 34 points in the clinching game, was named the most valuable player of the finals. It was the first time in his career he’s won the award.“Without him, none of this happens,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. “To me, this is his crowning achievement.”Curry, center, had 34 points on 12 of 21 shooting and made six 3-pointers.Allison Dinner for The New York TimesBoston put up a fight.The Celtics took a 14-2 lead to open the game, playing better than they did in their lackluster start to Game 5, but Golden State’s firepower threatened to overwhelm them. For nearly six minutes of playing time from late in the first quarter until early in the second, Boston couldn’t score.Golden State built a 21-point lead in the second quarter, and kept that cushion early in the third.With 6 minutes 15 seconds left in the third, Curry hit his fifth 3 of the game, giving his team a 22-point lead. He held out his right hand and pointed at its ring finger, sure he was on his way to earning his fourth championship ring.The moment might have motivated the Celtics, who responded with a 12-2 run. Ultimately, though, they had too much ground to recover.Golden State celebrated after two seasons of subpar records, one which made it the worst team in the N.B.A. Its players and coaches spent those seasons waiting for Thompson’s injuries to heal, for Curry’s (fewer) injuries to heal and for new or young pieces of their roster to grow into taking on important roles.When they became whole again, the three-player core talked about cementing its legacy.They were so much younger when their journeys together began. Golden State drafted Curry in 2009, Thompson in 2011 and Green in 2012.Curry was 27 when they won their first championship together in 2015. Thompson and Green were both 25.That season was also Kerr’s first as the team’s coach.Golden State went 67-15 and breezed through the playoffs to the N.B.A. finals, having no idea how hard getting there could be. The next year the team set a league record with 73 regular-season wins but lost in a return trip to the finals. Kevin Durant joined the team in free agency that summer, and Golden State won the next two championships, becoming hailed as one of the greatest teams in N.B.A. history.The champions grew as people and as players during this stretch. Curry and Green added children to their families. They were rock stars on the road, with swarms of fans waiting for them at their hotels. Three championships in four seasons made Golden State seem invincible.Only injuries could stop them.The dynastic run ended in devastating fashion in 2019 during their fifth consecutive finals appearance. Durant had been struggling with a calf injury, then tore his right Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 of the finals against Toronto and left the team for the Nets in the off-season. Thompson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the next game. The Raptors won the championship that day.In 2019, the team left behind Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., and entered the season without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.Jim Wilson/The New York Times“It was the end of an era at Oracle,” Curry said, referring to Golden State’s former arena in Oakland, Calif. The team moved to Chase Center in San Francisco in 2019. He added: “You’re getting ready for the summer, trying to regroup and figure out what’s going to happen next year.”The two seasons of futility that followed were difficult for all of them, but no more so than for Thompson, who also tore his right Achilles’ tendon during the fall of 2020, sidelining him for an additional year.During this year’s finals, he has often thought about that journey.“I wouldn’t change anything,” Thompson said. “I’m very grateful and everything I did to that point led to this.”Heading into this season, Golden State wasn’t expected to return to this stage so soon. This was particularly true because heading into the season, Thompson’s return date was unclear.But then, hope. Golden State opened the 2021-22 campaign by winning 18 of its first 20 games. The team had found a gem in Gary Payton II, who had been cast aside by other teams because of his size or because he wasn’t a standout 3-point shooter. Andrew Wiggins, acquired in a 2020 trade with Minnesota, Kevon Looney, who was drafted weeks after that 2015 championship, and Jordan Poole, a late-first-round pick in 2019, showed why the team valued them so much.Curry set a career record for 3-pointers and mentored the team’s younger players.Who could say how good this team might be once Thompson returned?That answer came in the playoffs.Golden State beat the Denver Nuggets in five games, and the Memphis Grizzlies in six. Then Dallas took only one game from Golden State in the Western Conference finals.Curry, Thompson and Green, the engine of five straight finals runs, came into this year’s championship series completely changed.“The things that I appreciate today, I didn’t necessarily appreciate those things then,” Green said. “In 2015, I hated taking pictures and, you know, I didn’t really put two and two together. Like, man, these memories are so important.”Draymond Green, left, had 12 points and 12 rebounds and finished two assists shy of a triple-double.Allison Dinner for The New York TimesThey vowed not to take for granted any part of the finals experience, even the negative parts.Throughout the series, Boston fans chanted at Green using an expletive. During the champagne celebration in the postgame locker room, his teammates mimicked them.“It’s beautiful,” Green said. “You embrace the tough times, and that’s what we do and that’s how we come out on top. For us, it was a beautiful thing. To hear my teammates chant that, it don’t get much better than that.”They faced a Boston Celtics team that was young, just like they were in 2015, led by the 20-somethings Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, shepherded by the elder statesman Al Horford. The Celtics did almost everything the hard way as they sought the storied franchise’s 18th championship.They swept the Nets in the first round but went to seven games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat. They won when they had to, and committed too many careless turnovers when they didn’t.Boston was the younger, stronger and more athletic team in the finals. The Celtics did not fear Golden State, or the grand stage, and proved it by winning Game 1 on the road. Until Game 5, the Celtics had not lost back-to-back games in the playoffs.Curry had his way against Boston’s defense in Game 4, scoring 43 points. Then in Game 5, the Celtics stymied his efforts, only to have his teammates make up the ground he lost.At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Green recalled a moment during Golden State’s flight to Boston from San Francisco between Games 5 and 6. He, Thompson and Curry were sitting together when they were spotted by Bob Myers, the team’s general manager and president of basketball operations.“He’s like: ‘Man, y’all are funny. Y’all still sit together. Y’all don’t understand, it’s 10 years. Like, this does not happen. Guys still sitting together at the same table,’” Green recalled. “He’s like, ‘Guys are not even on the same team for 10 years, let alone still sitting there at the same table and enjoying each other’s conversation and presence.’”At a separate news conference a few minutes later, Thompson was asked about that moment and why the three of them still enjoy each other’s company. Curry stood against a wall, watching, waiting for his turn to speak.“Well, I don’t know about that,” Thompson said. “I owe Draymond some money in dominoes, so I don’t want to see him too many times.”Curry bent at the waist, doubled over with quiet laughter.“I was half asleep,” Thompson continued. “Draymond and Bob were chatting their hearts away for six hours on a plane ride. I was just trying to get some sleep.”Golden State fans celebrated another title, this time at a watch party at the Chase Center in San Francisco.Jim Wilson/The New York TimesCurry said later, “All the personalities are so different. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. But we’ve all jelled around a collective unit of how we do things, whether it’s in the locker room, on the plane, the hotels, like whatever it is. We know how to have fun and jell and keep things light but also understand what we’re trying to do and why it all matters in terms of winning games.”The next day they won their fourth championship together. They gathered in a crowd and jumped around together. When Curry won finals M.V.P., they chanted “M-V-P” along with everyone else onstage.Long after the celebration ended, Thompson and Curry remained up there together, sitting together at times, dancing together at times. Thompson looked down off the stage and said he didn’t want to leave.Curry descended before Thompson did, but first he stood on the top step. He held a cigar between his lips, and clutched the M.V.P. trophy in his left hand. More

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    NBA Finals Game 6 Preview: What’s at Stake for Boston and Golden State

    Stephen Curry is one win away from his fourth N.B.A. championship. Boston is trying to come back from its second 3-2 deficit this postseason.The Boston Celtics are in dire straits after losing to Golden State on Monday in Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals, leaving them in a 3-2 deficit as the series shifts to Boston on Thursday. Teams with 3-2 leads in best-of-seven N.B.A. finals have won the championship 39 of 48 times — 81.3 percent. Some of the Celtics’ regular-season woes are reappearing in the finals: They haven’t been able to sustain effort for entire games and have watched fourth-quarter leads evaporate.Golden State, meanwhile, is in the driver’s seat. On Monday, Stephen Curry had his first underwhelming game of the series, and his team still won — a bad sign for the Celtics.But there is still at least one game to be played. The Celtics have made a habit of coming back at unexpected times, including in Game 1, which featured an unexpected fourth-quarter implosion by Golden State.Here’s a look at where the series stands before a potential elimination game on the N.B.A.’s biggest stage.For Boston to Win:Can the Celtics locate Jayson Tatum?Jayson Tatum, 24, is the biggest reason the Celtics reached the finals. He is one of the best scorers in the league and is capable of dropping 50 points in a playoff game, as he did last year against the Nets in the first round. But against Golden State, he has had difficulty scoring near the basket and has had trouble with turnovers. On Monday night, he set a league record for turnovers in a postseason. Tatum is shooting 37.3 percent from the field against Golden State.If the Celtics are going to stave off elimination, they’ll need more from Tatum. But there is hope for Boston: In Game 6 of this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks, with the Celtics facing the same deficit, Tatum pulled out a 46-point performance.Turnovers have been a problem for the Celtics throughout the playoffs, particularly for Jayson Tatum, right, and Jaylen Brown.Elsa/Getty ImagesCan the Celtics stop turning the ball over?In Game 5, the Celtics had 18 turnovers, and Golden State had six. In Game 2, the Celtics had 18, and Golden State had 12. This has been a problem for the Celtics throughout the playoffs, particularly with their stars, Tatum and Jaylen Brown — who often have been stripped while dribbling into the paint. If Boston doesn’t take care of the ball, it doesn’t win. End of story.Defensively, the Celtics have been fine. Golden State has scored from 100 to 108 points in each of the first five games, which, considering its offensive talent, is acceptable. It’s on the offensive end where Boston has struggled to generate consistent looks.For Golden State to Win:Can the supporting cast show up again?For most of the series, Curry has had to shoulder an enormous offensive burden. In the first four games of the series, the Warriors shot only 37.3 percent on attempts considered wide open. That’s mostly on the rest of the Golden State players who haven’t been able to make Boston pay for tight defense on Curry.That is until Game 5, when Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole punished the Celtics from deep, making up for Curry’s 0-for-9 night from 3. Even Draymond Green, who has had a dismal series, had 8 points, serving as a crucial release valve for Curry.If Golden State’s non-Curry players hit their shots, Boston will find it very difficult to win.Does Curry have another pantheon performance in him?Golden State showed that it could win despite a bad game from Curry. But it doesn’t want to take that chance again. Curry’s 43-point performance in Game 4 was remarkable. If he can dig deep for another similar outing, he puts himself in the conversation for one of the best finals performances in history.The StakesIf Boston wins:The series will head to a winner-take-all Game 7. And if the Celtics win that, they will have completed an astonishing turnaround from January, when they were 18-21. It will prove that a team can win a championship with two ball-dominant wings who play similar games, in this case Tatum and Brown. It will also validate the team’s decision not to trade its young players for any of the established ones who have hit the market in recent years.Golden State will have to wonder whether not trading any of its young players — the rookies Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga and the second-year center James Wiseman — for immediate help would have been the right move to take advantage of Curry’s dwindling window.If Golden State wins:The ascension of Andrew Wiggins will reach new heights.For the first five years of Andrew Wiggins’s career, he was known mostly as a cautionary tale. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him first overall in the 2014 N.B.A. draft and then traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves weeks later to build a title contender around LeBron James. He showed flashes of elite athleticism, enough for Minnesota to invest a maximum contract extension in him. But the production never matched the contract. Since joining Golden State through a trade in 2020, however, Wiggins has turned his career around. This year, he played in his first All-Star Game. And in the finals, he has been, at times, the best player on either team. If Golden State wins the championship, Wiggins will have been a huge reason — and it will complete a remarkable turnaround in his career.The Stephen Curry legacy grows.If Golden State wins Game 6, it is a virtual certainty that Curry will win the finals Most Valuable Player Award, which would fill the one remaining hole in his résumé. But a championship has larger stakes for Curry. His previous titles — according to some N.B.A. observers — have not been legacy-burnishing championships in the way they have been for other stars. In 2015, Golden State beat a James-led Cavaliers team missing two of its three best players. In 2017 and 2018, Golden State beat the Cavaliers again, but Kevin Durant was arguably the best player on those teams. This would be Curry’s first championship in which he was unambiguously the best player on Golden State and the opposing team was at full strength. This championship would vault Curry higher in the discussion of N.B.A. greats.Boston will consider tinkering.Most of Boston’s key players are young and still entering their primes. Tatum and Brown are dynamic wings who can, in theory, be All-Stars for years to come. But if they lose, questions will arise about whether they can do it together. The issue for Boston is that it doesn’t have much free-agency wiggle room. With several teams expected to make improvements next year — including the division-rival Nets and Toronto Raptors — the Celtics will face difficult questions about whether making changes at the edges is enough.Draymond Green will podcast to his heart’s desire.Green has offered insightful commentary on his podcast after every game. With a championship, he’ll be able to do so guilt-free and without fans telling him to stop, in spite of his mostly poor performance in the series. More

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    49ers’ Ronnie Lott Lives His N.B.A. Dream Through Golden State

    Ronnie Lott won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers — but basketball is his favorite sport. He’s all-in on Golden State in the N.B.A. finals.SAN FRANCISCO — When Ronnie Lott watches Golden State play basketball, he might as well be analyzing old All-22 film of himself from his days as an All-Pro safety and cornerback with the San Francisco 49ers.He watches how Andrew Wiggins positions himself for rebounds. He watches how defenders deal with screens. He watches how Stephen Curry wriggles free for jump shots, and he watches how the team threads the needle with its passes.“It’s an art, really,” Lott said. “In football, you might have one person who can do that. In today’s basketball game, everybody’s got to be pretty capable of making great passes.”For Lott, 63, there is an analytical side to the experience. But there is also an emotional one. As a Warriors season-ticket holder since the mid-1980s, Lott has seen a bit of everything. Now, with Golden State looking to clinch another N.B.A. championship, in Boston on Thursday night against the Celtics, he is bracing himself once more. Golden State leads the series, 3-2.“I know how much it means to those guys,” Lott said.It might come as a surprise to football fans to learn that Lott’s first love was basketball. He was good enough to play in Division I for a season as a walk-on point guard at Southern California.“I wanted to be Magic Johnson,” he said.Lott was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. REUTERS/Ron Schwane
    Lott said he learned a lot that season about teamwork and winning, and it gave him an invaluable opportunity to work on his quickness. But after he scored a total of 4 points while collecting 10 personal fouls in limited minutes, he knew his future was in football.He was in the midst of winning four Super Bowls with the 49ers when he found an outlet for his other passion: He bought season tickets to Golden State’s home games at the start of the Chris Mullin era.“It’s my favorite sport,” Lott said. “It’s probably the one sport I dream about more than anything.”He last played in the N.F.L. in 1994, and announced his retirement in 1996. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.Aside from savoring the vicarious joy, and coping with the occasional sadness, that has come with watching Golden State play over the years, Lott has noticed how much overlap there is between basketball and football — overlap that has been especially evident in the finals.“The players are so physical,” he said. “You see guys grabbing jerseys, and I’m like, ‘Man, they’d have a couple of yellow flags being thrown at them if they were playing football.’”Lott compared defending 3-point shooters like Curry to football’s “bump and run” coverage, in which defensive backs impede the path of wide receivers coming off the line of scrimmage. In fact, Marcus Smart, one of the Celtics who has tried to chase Curry around in the finals, grew up playing free safety.“It helped me learn how to change directions and how to use my hips,” said Smart, this season’s defensive player of the year.Winning, too, is universal, and Lott has seen shades of the 49ers’ championship D.N.A. in the way Golden State has gone about its business. Lott recalled seasons when quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice were beat up and tired but still found ways to engineer Super Bowl runs.In recent weeks, Lott said, Golden State has won games that it probably had no business winning. There was the team’s comeback from a 19-point deficit against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And in its own way, Golden State’s win over Boston in Game 5 on Monday night was another weird one: Curry missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. But experience builds on itself.“What makes a great team a great team,” Lott said, “is that you can go back to moments and say, ‘Oh, we’ve been in this situation before, and we know what it takes.’”At the same time, Lott was particularly impressed by Wiggins, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds to lead Golden State on Monday. Lott thought back to 2020, when Wiggins joined the team through a midseason trade with Minnesota and no one knew whether he would have much of an impact. But sometimes a change of scenery can turn good players into indispensable ones.“I’m playing basketball, and I’m playing hard, and I feel like people respect that,” Wiggins said, adding: “There are just a lot of great people here — great people who challenge you and hold you accountable.”Lott has seen it happen. In 1981, Lott’s rookie year, the 49ers were coming off a lukewarm start to the season when the defensive end Fred Dean joined them following a contract dispute with the San Diego Chargers. With Dean wreaking havoc as a pass-rush specialist, the 49ers went on to win their first Super Bowl.Running back Walt Easley, left, and Lott, right, hugged 49ers Coach Bill Walsh after beating the Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in November 1981.Carl Viti/Associated Press“When we got Fred Dean, everything got better,” Lott said. He drew a parallel to Wiggins: “He’s elevated his game and his effort. When you find a guy like that, you get the sense that, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been waiting for all my life, to be in this environment, to be on this stage.’”Though he was a regular at Golden State’s early-round playoff games this season, Lott has not attended a finals game since 2016. It was in 2016, of course, that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned Golden State on the road in Game 7 of the finals to win the franchise’s first championship, after having trailed the series 3-1. The loss seemed to sting Lott nearly as much as it would have had he been in uniform.Since then, he has watched Golden State’s various finals appearances with his wife, Karen, from the safety and relative seclusion of his self-described “man cave.” It is better for everyone involved, he said. He knows it might sound strange, but nothing he does or says or feels in his basement can affect the game.“I don’t want them to lose,” he said, “and so I feel like the times that I’ve gone and they’ve lost — I just don’t like that feeling. And you don’t want to feel like you’re holding them back from anything.” More

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    The Boston Celtics Have Faced Elimination, but Not Like This

    The Celtics have drawn confidence from previous season-saving wins. But watching a championship trophy drift away is another challenge altogether.SAN FRANCISCO — Jayson Tatum offered a resigned chuckle when he was asked about the Boston Celtics’ confidence level after losing Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals.If any nihilistic thoughts tormented him after a game in which he scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a losing effort against Golden State, he suppressed them.“You better be confident, right?” Tatum said. “We ain’t got to win two in one day. We just got to win one game on Thursday. We’ve been in this situation before. So it’s not over. Got to win on Thursday.”The idea that Boston knows what to do when cornered in a playoff series has been repeated by the Celtics many times this postseason. They did it again Monday night after falling to a 3-2 series deficit in the N.B.A. finals, and now they face elimination on Thursday in Boston. But the assuredness with which they spoke in previous series was missing.For many reasons, the situation they find themselves in now is new territory and has left the Celtics searching for answers for how to recover in time for Game 6.“Our faith got to be at an all-time high,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. “Our faith got to continue to be there. We got to play as a team, as a unit. All season long it’s kind of been like us versus everybody. I look at it as no different now.”Center Robert Williams said: “We have to look each other in the eye now. Our backs are up against the wall.”What’s familiar is that the Celtics are in an elimination game.They have played in three during this season’s playoffs and advanced by winning all of them.They were down 3-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, then won the next two games to reach the conference finals. There, the Miami Heat forced a Game 7, which Boston won, 100-96.Often it seemed the Celtics were making their own path harder than it needed to be, giving into lulls when they played in games that were not must-wins. They had an opportunity to finish their series against the Heat at home in six games but couldn’t. They gave up 47 points to Miami’s Jimmy Butler that night. They have been blown out by the same teams they have beat convincingly, suggesting a lack of focus.Their disregard has manifested through missteps like careless turnovers — the Celtics have given up 16.8 turnovers per game in each of their losses during the playoffs and only 12.8 in wins this postseason. They gave up 18 turnovers on Monday night.Their offense has gone stale at times, but their defense has helped save them.Before Game 5, Boston Coach Ime Udoka said the Celtics would have been 3-1 in the series if their offense had simply played better. Then they started Game 5 by missing their first 12 3-pointers.What’s changed now is that Golden State seems to have decoded the Celtics. Boston’s physicality no longer scares them. Shut down Stephen Curry? Golden State still won.The Celtics spent a lot of time complaining about fouls, called and uncalled, during Game 5.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFor most of the playoffs, each time Boston lost a game, it recovered in the next. Game 5 was the first time this postseason that the Celtics had lost twice in a row — the result of a disparity in poise and adaptability, with the young Boston team on the lower end.As the series has progressed, Golden State has seemed more and more ready to pounce on the Celtics’ weaknesses.Celtics forward Al Horford said he felt that his team was “almost playing into their hands, some of the things they want us to do, which is taking contested midrange shots and probably play a little faster than we want at times. I feel like that’s part of the reason our offense hasn’t been clicking like it needs to be.”In Game 5, the Celtics also fell victim to their frustrations with the officiating, which compounded their offensive struggles. The team complained and argued for most of the night.“Probably something we shouldn’t do as much, and we all did too much,” Udoka said.What’s also unfamiliar for the Celtics as they face elimination this time is the pressure that comes with this stage of the season.After Boston took a 2-1 lead in the series, all the talk of Golden State’s advantage in championship experience seemed nonsensical. It seemed, at the time, that the Celtics lost that one game only because they lost focus, as they sometimes do. It seemed, at that time, that Boston was too big, strong, athletic and young for Golden State’s experience to make much of a difference.But now the series has reached a point that these Celtics have never seen before.“We understand what we need to do,” Curry said. “It’s just about going out and executing, trying to bottle up your emotions, knowing how hard a closeout game is.”As Boston searches for answers, Golden State smells blood.Said Klay Thompson: “I’ve never been so excited to go to Boston, I’ll tell you that.” More

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    Golden State Beat Celtics in Game 5, Moving 1 Win From N.B.A. Title

    Andrew Wiggins powered Golden State’s victory on an off night for Stephen Curry, who went 0 for 9 from 3-point range.SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State had been mucking up its offense for nearly the entire third quarter on Monday night when Andrew Wiggins pushed the ball ahead to Jordan Poole, a young guard with enormous confidence. Just before time expired, Poole launched a 3-pointer from 33 feet that banked off the glass before rattling through the hoop.The heave was a buzzer-beating breath of life for Golden State in Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals — and for the team’s white-knuckled fans, who rode waves of highs and lows before the Warriors pulled away for a 104-94 victory that put them on the cusp of another championship.Golden State, which took a 3-2 lead in the series, can clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, and its first since 2018, when the team goes on the road to face Boston in Game 6 on Thursday night.Wiggins led Golden State with 26 points, and Klay Thompson added 21. Jayson Tatum had a game-high 27 points for the Celtics in the loss.After a solid start, Golden State was leading by 12, but four Jaylen Brown free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers by Tatum gave the Celtics the first 10 points of the second half, a surprising turn of events given Golden State’s famously torrid third quarters. The Celtics soon took the lead when Marcus Smart and Al Horford connected on consecutive 3-pointers of their own, part of a 19-4 run.Golden State missed its first eight 3-point attempts of the second half before Thompson finally made a couple, a much-needed boost for Golden State — and for Thompson, who had been having his share of struggles in the series.After Poole punctuated the third quarter with his deep 3-pointer, a shot that had the home crowd at Chase Center in a state of near-delirium, his teammates seemed to ride that crest of emotion. By the time Thompson shed Smart to make another 3-pointer, Golden State was back up by 8 points.After scoring 43 points in Golden State’s Game 4 win, Stephen Curry had a muted effort in Game 5, finishing with just 16 points and shooting 0 of 9 from 3-point range. But his teammates delivered. Golden State appeared locked in from the start, passing the ball from side to side, from corner to corner, in constant pursuit of the best possible shot. Not that the team was always able to connect, shooting 3 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half.Still, Golden State went ahead by as many as 16 late in the first quarter before Boston began to chip away with Curry resting on the bench. Smart sank a 10-foot jumper. Robert Williams forced his way inside for a layup.Golden State recalibrated as Curry secured a 51-39 lead at halftime with an up-and-under layup.Draymond Green fouled out in the fourth quarter, but his energy on offense and defense was significant in Golden State’s victory.Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports, via ReutersIn the first half, Golden State was buoyed by Wiggins, who had 16 points and 7 rebounds, and by Draymond Green, who assembled one of his more assertive stretches of the finals. In the first four games of the series, he scored a total of 17 points. By halftime of Game 5, he had 8 points and was flying around the court.Tatum, after laboring with his shot for much of the series, was doing what he could to keep the Celtics close, collecting 13 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.Before the game, Celtics Coach Ime Udoka expressed concern that Tatum had been preoccupied with hunting for fouls rather than taking good shots. Udoka wanted him to be “more physical” on his drives.“A lot of times he’s kind of floating, going off one leg, when he can plant and go off two, finish a little stronger,” Udoka said, adding: “We’re just telling him to be decisive. He’s done it all year, seen every coverage, and for the most part has kind of picked those apart.”For Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, Monday was the 25th anniversary of a poignant moment from his playing career. It was Kerr’s jump shot in Game 6 of the 1997 finals that clinched another championship for the Chicago Bulls — their fifth of the Michael Jordan era — against the Utah Jazz.“Something every young basketball player dreams of,” he said, adding: “The finals are the finals, whether you’re playing or coaching. It’s the ultimate competition in the world of basketball.” More