By riding a 17-3 closing push in the final five minutes to earn a split in Boston, Golden State evened the series at two games apiece and reclaimed home-court advantage, with Game 5 set for San Francisco’s Chase Center on Monday.
In the tightest game of this series, Curry displayed what he often calls his “championship DNA.” As Boston missed open looks from beyond the arc down the stretch, Curry knocked in a one-legged runner, made a three-pointer from the right angle with just under two minutes left and then ran a pick and roll with Draymond Green to set up a layup for Kevon Looney in the game’s final minute. Curry finished off the win at the free throw line, notching his second career 40-point game in the Finals and the seventh 40-point showing of his playoff career.
“The medical staff hooked me up the last two days, getting me right,” Curry said. “For the most part, I wasn’t thinking about [the foot]. I don’t know how to explain the pain. When you’re out there, you don’t compensate or it doesn’t take up too much mental space. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do out there on the court. Let’s hope that continues.”
While the night eventually belonged to Curry, it began with the Warriors deploying a tried-and-true adjustment, pivoting to a smaller lineup by inserting forward Otto Porter Jr. in place of Looney, their typical starting center. Seven years ago, a similar Game 4 swap of forward Andre Iguodala for center Andrew Bogut helped Golden State dig out of a 2-1 series deficit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals.
The lineup change, which gave Porter his first start since March 16, didn’t have the same transformative impact. While the Warriors were seeking to improve their offensive spacing by splitting up Green and Looney, their two non-shooting starters, they gave up an uncontested layup to Marcus Smart on the first possession and quickly fell into an 11-4 hole. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr pulled the plug on the experiment shortly thereafter, swapping Looney back in for Porter, who finished with just two points in 14 minutes.
Of greater consequence than Golden State’s new lineup was Curry’s ability to play through a painful left foot injury suffered in Game 3. Curry’s optimism about the extent of his injury — he insisted it wasn’t as bad as a left foot sprain he suffered in March — proved well-founded, as he showed no ill effects. Curry smiled through an extensive pregame shooting routine and then came out firing in the first half.
“I think [Curry] was really laboring out there. He really struggled,” Kerr quipped sarcastically. “It never even looked like [the foot] was a factor.”
Sensing Golden State’s need for a lift, Curry drained back-to-back three-pointers late in the first quarter and screamed toward the baseline crowd. Curry’s unusual early-game show of emotion provided a response to the boisterous Celtics fans, who booed and shouted profanities in unison at Green and Klay Thompson.
“A lot of [my emotion] was because of how hostile the environment was, with the fans chanting and doing all their shenanigans,” Curry said. “And Boston, knowing how big of a game it is for them. If they get the win, they take control of the series. It’s all that mixed in with the experience of knowing how fickle momentum is in the Finals. We’ve been through it all. I tried to rely on my past experience.”
But Curry was only getting started, hitting an array of three-pointers to lead another Golden State push out of halftime. For the fourth time in the series, the Warriors outscored the Celtics in the third quarter, this time erasing a five-point halftime deficit to take a 79-78 lead into the fourth quarter. Curry’s fingerprints were all over that push, as he held his follow-through after drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key and sneaked into the left corner to hit another.
This was a case of Curry filling in the gaps when others wouldn’t or couldn’t. Thompson scored 18 points, including a key three-pointer late, but was an inconsistent scoring presence. Green, meanwhile, regularly passed up scoring opportunities, finished with just 2 points on 1 for 7 shooting and was even benched for a brief stretch of the fourth quarter. Add it all up, and Curry single-handedly outscored Golden State’s four other starters combined.
“The heart on that man is incredible,” Thompson said. “The things he does we kind of take for granted from time to time. To go out there and put us on his back, we’ve got to help him out on Monday. Wow. It’s shocking he wasn’t a first-team all-NBA guy, but whatever. Next year.”
Informed that Thompson said that Game 4 was the best performance of Curry’s Finals career, which now spans eight appearances, the three-time champion demurred.
“I don’t rank my performances,” Curry said. “Just win the game.”
Boston will view Game 4 as a major missed opportunity, as its halftime lead would have been larger if not for sloppy turnovers in the second quarter. Jayson Tatum epitomized the Celtics’ mix of hot outside shooting and poor decision-making, as he scored 16 points but committed four turnovers before halftime, including a giveaway under his hoop that led to a layup for Gary Payton II. By night’s end, the Celtics had turned the ball over 16 times, and they fell to 0-6 this postseason when committing more than 15 turnovers.
“Every time we got a lead, we made some poor decisions,” Celtics Coach Ime Udoka said. “We got stalled out a little bit. Our offense wasn’t as good as it needed to be. We had our opportunities, especially in the first half.”
After running away from Golden State in the fourth quarters of Game 1 and Game 3, Boston was outscored 28-19 in the final period, in part because it struggled to limit Golden State on the glass. Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, including two key offensive rebounds in the final five minutes.
Four Celtics scored in double figures, led by Tatum with 23 points, along with 11 rebounds and six assists, but their offense faltered down the stretch. Boston shot just 7 for 21 in the final period and 1 for 8 in the final five minutes, and Tatum was held scoreless over the final 10 minutes.
When it came time for the Celtics’ first late-game shootout with Curry, they simply couldn’t keep up.
“[Curry] showed why he’s one of the best players to ever play this game and why this organization has been able to ride him to so much success,” Green said. “He wasn’t letting us lose.”