• Full Coverage: 2022 NBA Finals
BOSTON – The NBA Finals will show and where it’s headed next Friday as the Celtics either crawl a step closer to an 18th banner or draw level with the Warriors and reclaim the home court and maybe the series lead as well.
When it comes to problems, there are four to consider in Game 4 (9 ET, ABC) at TD Garden:
1. Celtics will test Steph Curry’s creaking foot early and often
Because of course. June is a sympathy-free month in the NBA. A championship is at stake and teams will do anything to win one. Boston will run Curry off screens and put him through a workout to show once and for all just how sensitive Curry’s left foot is 48 hours after an unfortunate collision with a clumsy Al Horford.
If you believe Curry, the only thing hurting him right now is his feelings. He didn’t need an MRI. He appeared fairly normal on Thursday, downplaying any significance of the Game 3 mishap even though the Warriors weren’t conducting practice.
“I will play. That’s all I know at the moment,” he said.
He didn’t exactly say “I’ll play with no problems or complaints,” so take that for what it’s worth.
“It’s just a matter of pain tolerance that you have to deal with,” he said. “At this point in the series, if you’re good enough to play, you play.”
This is the same foot that was mutilated when Marcus Smart landed on it in March – in what coach Steve Kerr described as a “dangerous game” – that forced Curry to miss a month. Curry said this one wasn’t that bad. But every time Curry has a foot problem, the sensitivity meter has gone through the roof given his history of sprained ankles.
Curry’s importance to the warriors is obvious; He brings three rings and holds the poll position for Finals MVP, which would be his first, with a 31-point scoring average and consistent play. The game gets physical though, so not only does his jump shot need to keep cooperating, but so does his body. Especially as he’s playing 35 minutes a night and now has a greater sense of urgency to be back 2-1.
2. Is Jaylen Brown the Warriors’ biggest problem?
The Celtics’ two wins had one thing in common: they were also Brown’s best games of the series.
He posted 24 points with seven rebounds and five assists and juiced the Celtics storm in the fourth quarter in Game 1. Then on Wednesday, he made his trademark mark by setting the tone early and delivering 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists. That doesn’t even explain the work he’s doing defensively, rotating between Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and others.
What’s also striking about Brown is how intrepid he is in bright light. He has drawn to the ball in tense moments, taking on the toughest defensive task, responding physically when needed and not letting Draymond Green pull him back.
“The playoffs are my favorite season,” he said. “That’s what I love about basketball. This is real basketball.”
Here on the grandest stage, Brown declares exactly who he is: a mature two-way player capable of seizing the moment, no matter the size. Last year he was out with an injured wrist when the Celtics fell in the first round. At the moment? He’s obviously a growing problem for the Warriors, who need to give him the same respect they show Tatum. Mostly because Brown is almost as good on the ball and has improved as a playmaker.
“I appreciate Ime (Udoka) for having that confidence in me and believing in me,” he said. “Everything else has grown from here. Experience is the best teacher. I learn things by being right in the middle of things. Being able to get those repeats all season has helped us now in the playoffs.”
3. Grant Williams brings himself back into the mix
During the first two games of the NBA Finals, the “other” Williams appeared to be invisible, only appearing when exchanging trash talk with Draymond Green. Otherwise, Grant Williams was unplayable averaging just 18 minutes and didn’t do anything special with a total of six points and four rebounds.
This was in contrast to the Eastern Semifinals when he had two 20-point games against the Bucks, aided by sharp 3-point shooting, and was also called up to the front line of defense against Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But the smaller and faster Warriors made Williams somewhat obsolete, at least until Wednesday when Williams finally had positive stretches. His efficiency and energy in 20 minutes yielded 10 points, five rebounds and helped give Boston a size advantage; Though Williams is only 6ft 6, he plays taller and helped the Celtics control the inside.
“We all have to come out of the next game with the same intensity, including me,” Williams said. “I pride myself on being mentally and physically prepared for whatever comes my way. Whatever is asked of me, I will do.”
The Warriors have made much better use of their faster and smaller selves in earlier playoff rounds than they did in the Finals, which raises an odd question now that they’re 2-1 behind…
4. How do the Warriors “get big”?
Would this series have a different flavor from the Warriors’ standpoint if James Wiseman, their young 7-foot center and projected starter, stayed healthy? Suppose the Warriors got a chance to use him and Kevon Looney, the backup better suited as a power forward, against the Celtics?
It’s one of those hypotheses that doesn’t mean anything if the Warriors win the series, but becomes an interesting what-if should they lose and continue to get muscled in the color and near the rim. The Warriors were able to take advantage of the size issue against the Mavericks in the West Finals because Dallas was short on functional big men. Not so in this series, as the Celtics are thriving – and also keeping their fingers crossed that Robert Williams III can stay upright.
There’s really no secret here: Draymond Green needs to shake off his lethargy and Looney needs to regain the spirit and impact he had against the Mavericks when he was a factor on both ends. Both were volatile in the Finals and turned into steam especially in Game 3 when the Celtics bested them in arm wrestling by racking up 15 offensive rebounds and fouling Draymond.
Will Western Conference finalist Looney finally make an appearance this round? Or was that streak an anomaly for a limited-skill player who was consistent but unspectacular throughout his NBA career?
More important is how Draymond rebounds, not from the crowd’s reaction – which will be tough again – but from his own laxity about fouls and his ongoing allergic reaction to wide-open shots. He’s still not in double digits, and while that’s not a huge demand on him, he does miss chances that often result in turnovers or harder shots for his teammates.
“I have to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball,” he admitted. “I think I can. I will.”
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can email him here, his archive can be found here and keep following him Twitter.
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