BOSTON — The Celtics didn’t look ready for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and now their season is on the line after falling to the Warriors, 104-94, on Monday night.
This is the first time all postseason that the Celtics have lost back-to-back games, and the first time the team has dropped two straight since late March. They’ll be playing for survival when the series shifts back to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday night.
It will be a long trip back to Boston, as the Celtics came out flat and struggled for most of the first half of Game 5. After mounting a comeback in the third quarter, they continued to make mistake after mistake against the Warriors in the fourth.
Boston turned it over 18 times, leading to 22 points for Golden State. The Celtics fell to 1-7 this postseason when they turn it over 16 or more times.
To make matters worse on Monday, the Celtics also missed 10 free throws in the loss.
“Poor start overall, it’s hard to explain why that is,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the loss. “We got back into it, but turnovers, missed free throws, talking to the refs too much, it didn’t help us in the fourth. Our offense was stagnant, unaggressive.”
The Boston defense held Steph Curry to just 16 points on 7-for-22 shooting (including 0-for-9 from three) after his 43-point explosion in Game 4. But Andrew Wiggins came up huge for Golden State, scoring a game-high 23 points to go with 13 rebounds.
Klay Thompson added 21 points for the Warriors, while Jordan Poole had 14 points off the bench.
Jayson Tatum finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Celtics, but he turned it over four times and was just 2-for-6 at the charity stripe. Jaylen Brown had 18 points, but was just 5-for-18 from the floor and turned it over five times. Marcus Smart had 20 points, but coughed the ball up four times.
The Celtics missed their first 12 three-point attempts. They didn’t get their first to go down until there was 4:34 left in the second quarter, when Tatum drained one to make it a 37-29 game. It was the most missed threes to start a Finals game over the last 25 years.
Boston also turned it over nine times in the first half, leading to 13 Golden State points. The Warriors took a 51-39 lead into halftime.
That lead did not last as Boston came out firing in the third quarter. Whatever Ime Udoka screamed at them in the locker room worked, because a completely different Celtics team came out of the break.
Brown started a 10-0 Celtics run by making a pair of free throws, and was back on the line after he stole the ball from Klay Thompson and was fouled at the rim. He hit those two freebies as well.
After some suffocating Celtics defense that led to an Otto Porter shot clock violation, Tatum drained a three. Then he canned another to make it a 10-0 Boston run over the first 1:43 to start the half, cutting Golden State’s lead to 51-49.
The Celtics weren’t done. Tatum hit another. Smart hit one. Horford hit another. Boston made eight straight threes after started 0-for-12, with the Horford make putting the Celtics on top 58-55 for their first lead of the game.
While the Celtics were hitting nearly everything, the Warriors couldn’t buy a bucket from downtown. Golden State missed 14 straight threes before Thompson drained back-to-back triples late in the third, cutting Boston’s lead to 68-67.
The Celtics won the third quarter for the first time all series, taking the frame 35-24. But the Warriors led 75-74 heading into the fourth quarter after Jordon Poole banked one in from 38 feet from the buzzer, as the Celtics stopped playing defense on the final play of the quarter.
That was one of the several mental miscues that cost the Celtics in Game 5. And winning the third didn’t matter much when the Celtics got outscored 29-20 in the fourth.
The Warriors fed off Poole’s circus shot and started the fourth on a 10-0 run. Poole scored five of Golden State’s points during the run, and his pullup with 9:05 left gave the Warriors a 84-75 lead.
The Celtics survived back-to-back turnovers by Brown midway through the quarter, but then Wiggins turned a Tatum airball into a nice floater to put the Warriors on top 89-78. Tatum missed a pair of free throws a few possessions later, and Curry answered with a floater to put the Warriors ahead by a dozen.
Tatum airballed a three with 2:25 left, and Wiggins answered with an emphatic slam to essentially seal the win for Golden State.
“Now our backs are against the wall and we have to see what we’re made of,” Al Horford said after the loss. “The challenge begins on Thursday.”
The Celtics have played their best with their backs against the wall. But now their season is on the line as they head into a must-win Game 6 on Thursday night in Boston.