Boston Celtics

How quickly the momentum can shift in a seven-game series.

The Boston Celtics have their work cut out for them following a 107-97 Game 4 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Gone are the good vibes from a Game 1 win on the road. Gone, the good feeling after Boston took a 2-1 series lead Wednesday night.

Game 4 was a reminder that if the Celtics want the NBA title, they’re going to have to take it.

The Green now need to win two of the next three games to reach the promised land. Coincidentally, two of the next three are scheduled to be played in San Francisco. While the Celtics have been road warriors and are an incredible 7-0 following a loss in these playoffs,  Golden State is 10-1 in their building during the 2022 postseason.

A series win will require both sustained effort and special performances, both of which the Warriors got in Game 4, as the cagey Western Conference champs hung in, made adjustments, got a superstar performance from their veteran leader, and sprinted away with a victory.

  • 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.