Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka said he was weighing changes to his substitution patterns, but likely not his starting lineup, with his team facing elimination in the NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, know they may be 48 hours from another NBA championship and are trying to manage all of the emotions tied to being so close to the ultimate goal.
The Celtics have dropped two straight games to the Golden State Warriors and now trail in the series 3-2 with Game 6 set for 9 pm Thursday at Boston’s TD Garden.
Golden State hasn’t lost since making its lineup change, moving Kevon Looney to the bench to create more favorable matchups against the Celtics’ reserves.
Udoka could counter that by moving center Robert Williams III to the bench and sub him in when Looney takes the floor, but he said he’s looking more at who to use off of the Celtics’ bench instead of making an actual lineup change.
“For us, other than last game, we really hadn’t gotten off to a poor start,” Udoka said. “No matter what they did lineup-wise, we were good to start the game for the most part in the first four games. As far as that, we’re rotating Rob out pretty quick to get him back in anyway. That’s not something we’re looking at as far as changing the starting lineup. It’s more so who we want coming in for who, the second unit.”
Udoka got virtually nothing from his bench in Game 5. Derrick White missed all four shots in 21 minutes, and Grant Williams scored four points in 16 minutes. Payton Pritchard could barely get on the floor, and he missed all three of his shots in four minutes.
Golden State’s reserves overwhelmed their counterparts, led by Gary Payton II (15 points), Jordan Poole (14 points) and Looney, whose personal numbers were limited due to foul trouble but the Warriors outscored Boston by 12 in his 17 minutes.
“I think small ball has worked for us,” Udoka said, referring to playing with either Horford or Williams on the court but not both. “We’d obviously like to get a little more out of Payton and Derrick than we did in the last game. Grant has been a big part of what we’ve done this year. We know what they’re trying to do as far as when they substitute. We can combat that with some lineup changes we’re looking at.”
Udoka’s other suggested change heading into Game 6? Leave the refs alone. Udoka was assessed one technical foul and nearly received another from Tony Brothers, while multiple Celtic players were noticeably upset with the officiating in the 104-94 loss in Game 5, to the point that it seemed to be a distraction.
“I think we’re complaining at times too much throughout the game,” Udoka said. “Late game may not be any different than first, second or third quarter. Something we need to block out and be better at overall.”
The Celtics have been in a similar situation to this one earlier in the playoffs, insofar as they were down 3-2 to the defending champion Bucks in the second round and went on to win the series.
The Warriors, meanwhile, are 0-3 this postseason when presented with their first chance to close out a series. Denver beat them in Game 4 of the first round, Memphis took Game 5 (by 39 points!) in the second and Dallas staved off elimination in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
“I don’t think the championship we think about too much because we’ve talked about it, like just being present,” Klay Thompson said. “You do yourself a disservice if you think about things that don’t even exist yet.
“It is very hard to close out a series,” Thompson continued. “This is a very good team. We know they’re going to play with a sense of desperation. So for us to match that or exceed that, it’s going to take the most effort we’ve had to give all year.”
Golden State can win its fourth title in eight seasons, a continuation of a dynasty featuring Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Steve Kerr, Andre Iguodala and general manager Bob Myers. The Warriors went to five consecutive finals from 2015-19, but in that ’19 Finals against Toronto, Kevin Durant tore his Achilles and then left for free agency, Thompson blew out his knee and would miss more than two seasons, and the franchise bottomed out as the worst team in the league when Curry missed most of the 2019-20 campaign.
“If you would have asked me this three years or five years ago in the midst of a five-year run, you think it’s just normal and natural that you end up in this position,” Green said. “And then after the last two years, you just realize it’s not guaranteed and anything can happen in the blink of an eye that changes everything.
“To be in this position is great, and saying that, still one win away,” Green said.
(Photo: Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports)