Boston Celtics

There is zero doubt that Stephen Curry is by far the best player in the 2022 NBA Finals. He’s averaging 34 points shooting 50 percent from the field and 49 percent from three.

The Boston Celtics haven’t stopped the Golden State Warriors superstar in any of the four finals games, his lowest scoring output is the 29 points he had in Game 2. But are the Celtics actually trying to stop Curry? According to Ime Udoka, it’s actually the opposite.

“Continue to make [Curry] work on [defense] and trust what we are doing on defense, which is allowing him to get some looks, get some looks off, but kind of containing everybody else,” Udoka said.

From the surface, it sounds insane. Allowing the individual that shoots the basketball better than anyone who has ever walked the planet to constantly catch fire simply feels wrong.

Defensively speaking, the strategy has certainly worked for Udoka. Klay Thompson shot 46 percent from the field in the postseason heading into the Finals. That percentage is 36 in the four games against Boston. Jordan Poole averaged 18.4 points in the playoffs before the Finals. He’s averaging 12.5 points through the first four games.

Draymond Green is cold in the Finals. Ice cold. The Celtics are holding him to 4.3 points on 30 percent shooting from the field and zero percent from three. He averaged 8.7 points on 54 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from three in the postseason prior to the Finals. He wasn’t lighting up opponents before, but Boston found a way to make something that was already bad even worse.

Not a single player other than Curry is doing better in this series than they were in the previous three.

“If we are playing the right way on the other end — the defense has been fine,” Udoka said. “They are scoring around 107. Scored 100 in a game. And when we’ve scored well, we’ve scored 121, 116…So our balance has to be better on offense.”

What Curry has done this Finals is nothing short of phenomenal. He’s cemented himself as one of the greats in basketball. But the Celtics offensive woes emphasize Curry’s excellence.

In wins Boston averages 118 points in the Finals. In losses, it’s averaging 92.5 points. In wins the Warriors average 107 points. In losses they average 104. The Celtics are okay with allowing Golden State to 105.5 points on average. Their offense is the problem.

Like it or not, Curry won’t slow down in this series, and that’s exactly how Udoka seemed to plan it.

Game 5 tips off at 9 p.m. in Golden State and can be watched on ABC. Listen to the game at 98.5 the Sports Hub radio where Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell’s coverage begins at 8:30.

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PHOTOS: Celtics take on Warriors in Boston for Game 4 of 2022 NBA Finals

Sylver: 3 ways the Warriors stole Game 4 from the Celtics

  • Cleaning the glass

    Curry

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 10: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Golden State Warriors won 107-97. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    The Warriors had a 61-49 rebounding advantage in this one. But it goes beyond the raw numbers. For the road team, rebounds were a first half attitude adjustment and a way to further demoralize their floundering opponents in the second half.

    Stever Kerr quickly found the error of his ways after starting a small lineup that couldn’t recover the basketball against Rob Williams (10 first half rebounds) and Al Horford. He got Kevon Looney into the game after less than five minutes had passed, and the mood immediately changed as Golden State went from down six to tied in two minutes’ time.

    Looney would go on to pull down 11 boards in his 28 minutes.

    Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, where Golden State pulled down six offensive rebounds and snuffed out numerous Boston possessions by crashing the glass.

    Curry – a guy who’s never averaged more than five rebounds in his career – pulled down double-digit boards. Andrew Wiggins matched his defensive intensity and penchant for killer buckets with an incredible 16 rebounds.

    And while Williams logged a playoff-high 31 minutes, his impact was muted late (just two rebounds after the halftime horn) and the C’s couldn’t buy a rebound with him on the bench. Al Horford tallied six boards and Grant Williams just one in his 12 minutes of play.

    It’s a delicate balancing act: when you sell out to crash the glass, you sacrifice in other areas. But the Celtics have to address this discrepancy for Game 5.

  • Closing it out

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 10: Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics talk over a play in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 10: Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics talk over a play in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    They C’s had a chance. More than just a chance.

    The Green had weathered every backbreaking three and even got let off the hook after a number of clumsy turnovers. The final margin was Golden State’s biggest lead of the game, and they never trailed by more than five points until the fourth quarter. Boston entered the fourth down one and even held a four-point lead late.

    But poor offensive decision-making reared its ugly head. Their creativity went in the toilet. The Celtics ran too many plays in isolation and forced a number of shots early in the clock. With 13 of 21 attempts in the final period coming from behind the arc, neither the process nor the results were pretty. The Celtics missed nine of those threes and shot just 3-for-8 from elsewhere on the floor.

    Their halftime lead on points in the paint and second-chance points evaporated. And Jayson Tatum made one of five field goal attempts.

    Meanwhile, the Warriors’ offense looked sleek and muscular, as they converted 10-of-20 tries – including four buckets at the rim – in the period. Klay Thompson finally showed up (keep an eye on that development). It was an efficient dismantling of the green machine that left engine parts spilled all over the parquet floor.

  • The ‘Steph Curry Game’

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 10: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates a basket in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 10: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates a basket in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics during Game Four of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Curry finished with 43 points on 14-of-26 field goals (7-of-14 from downtown and 8-of-9 from the line). With a quartet of three-pointers in the third quarter and a couple of backbreaking shots down the stretch, the future Hall of Famer put his stamp on Game 4.

    What’s interesting is that nobody other than Curry had a particularly efficient game. Thompson had 18 points on 17 shots. It took Wiggins 17 attempts to score his 17 points. Jordan Poole had a nice second half stretch, but wound up with 14 points on 13 shots.

    The trend unfortunately extended to Boston’s box score, as the trio of Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart needed 60 attempts to tally 64 points.

    After a 16-point, 7-rebound, 3-assist first half with a Dave Cowens-esque dive for a loose ball to boot, Tatum was a missing person late. And while Brown had some magnificent stretches, the Celtics seem unwilling to let anyone take over the game, with Smart needing to interject on an ill-advised heave, or Tatum grabbing the rock to Kobe cosplay.

    Pundits and radio callers alike say we need to see a “Jayson Tatum Game” for Boston to raise an 18th banner.

    But what does that look like? The Celtics have found offensive success with ball movement and contributions from multiple sources. While a Tatum or Brown scoring outburst would be welcomed, it can’t come from an island.

    With Game 5 on Monday night, it’s back to the drawing board for coach Ime Udoka and his squad.

    Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.