2022 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Celtics

5 takeaways from the Warriors' Game 5 victory in 2022 NBA Finals

Andrew Wiggins steps up, Jaylen Brown steps back, and the Warriors are 1 step away from the title.

Andrew Wiggins delivers in Game 5, pouring in 26 points and grabbing 13 boards to help Golden State take a 3-2 Finals lead.

• Complete coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors are now one win away from a once-familiar place for them and a chance to compare this era to any that followed the mighty Celtics of the 1960s.

They took a step closer Monday with another strong response and finish and a 10-point Game 5 win that has the Celtics on the ropes. It’s now 3-2 Warriors, for once led by a scorer in the 2022 NBA Finals not named Steph Curry.

Here are five takeaways from a most unconventional victory and how the series is unfolding with elimination games now in the forefront:

1. Warriors’ woes covered up by some Wiggs

He is unlikely to win Finals MVP, may never live up to being a No. 1 overall pick, all that. But just as well, Andrew Wiggins in this postseason has undergone a basketball image cleansing. None of those sins that saddled him prior to now are causing permanent stains anymore.

The Warriors look smart today, not only because they’re a win away from a fourth championship in the Curry Era, but for what they did just over two years ago: trade for a player nobody wanted, a player his former team couldn’t wait to unload, a player who walked in the door at his new place of employment carrying a heavy contract in one hand and baggage in the other.

That player today has chopped up the Celtics’ main weapon, emphatically delivered on back-to-back games in this series, and hasn’t blinked once in the bright lights. That player would be Wiggins, who has 43 points and 29 rebounds in the last two games and has Jayson Tatum mumbling to himself.

Andrew Wiggins finishes with 26 points and 13 rebounds as he helps give the Warriors a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals.

“It’s something I dreamt about, for sure,” Wiggins said.

On a night when the Warriors were less than perfect — they still haven’t collectively put together a strong game this series — Wiggins bailed them out with mid-range jumpers (26 points), with work on the boards (13) and especially on Tatum, who rarely saw uncontested shots and was led to a myriad of mistakes by his own frustration. Tatum evaporated in the fourth quarter, missing four of five shots. And with four more in this game, Tatum now has the most turnovers by anyone in a single postseason.

With two minutes left, Wiggins dribbled downcourt on the break, isolated on Derrick White and put him on a poster. It was officially a wrap — with a nice bowtie, much like his ferocious dunk on Luka Doncic in the Western Conference finals.

Andrew Wiggins reveals what set up his monstrous, late-game dunk on the Celtics in Game 5.

The change in atmosphere, from a losing one in Minnesota to a modern-day dynasty, has had a profound impact on Wiggins’ outlook, his work habits, and everything that’s made this possible. His athleticism and effort at both ends is a difference maker.

“Everyone on this team, they support you and they put you in a position to do good,” Wiggins said. “Being here, it’s a winning culture. It’s been good.”

So, let’s recap: Golden State loses Kevin Durant to the Nets, gets D’Angelo Russell from Brooklyn in the transaction, has no use for D-Lo, sends him to Minnesota for an underachiever whose contract was poisonous to 28 other teams … and now is watching him potentially help them to a title. Which means, strictly from a bottom-line standpoint, the Warriors with Wiggins could drink champagne much like the Warriors guzzled with KD. Yep, sounds blasphemous. But here they are.

2. Celtics running out of blown chances

So Curry finally had a performance more in line with mortality and shot 7-for-22, the Warriors fumbled away a lead, and another game was up for grabs, and what do the Celtics do? They kick themselves in the seat of their pants, which is where they find themselves today: on their behinds, and behind 3-2.

Their second-half self-destruction, for a second-straight game, was breathless in its scope. Sloppy passes, missed free throws, launching contested shots… it was the perfect storm and avalanche, much of it self-inflicted. How is it physically and gymnastically possible to pull the rug from under yourself? The Celtics twisted themselves in a knot to find a way.

Poor offensive execution dooms Celtics once again

They missed 10 free throws. They had 18 turnovers, which became 22 Warriors points. They took 15 shots in the fourth quarter from hell and made four. They looked gassed, spent, finished. And remember, this came three nights after they responded with a feeble 19 fourth-quarter points in an otherwise suspenseful Game 4.

So much for the team that boasted how it always bounced back from tough losses. This is raising questions about the ability of Marcus Smart to make snap decisions at point guard (four turnovers, just two assists, became unraveled with the referees) and Tatum in fourth quarters (one basket in each of the last two matchups) and the Celtics’ composure when times get rough.

“Not our best moment,” Al Horford said. “We’ve been able to fend these things off, and for whatever reason, it got to us. We felt like we had opportunities.”

3. Celtics go as Jaylen Brown goes

If you want to know how the Celtics did, look no further than Brown and study his performance. That has been the telltale sign, the dead giveaway, the direct correlation between winning and losing, at least so far.

When the Celtics win, Brown good. When they lose, Brown bad. And the most vivid example was Game 5 when Brown was nightmarish. Plenty of mistakes doomed the Celtics, but especially his. Nothing worked: He shot poorly (5-for-18 and no 3s), had five turnovers, missed three free throws and rated a minus-19 for the night.

“I’ve got to be better,” Brown said. “I’m looking forward to the next game. My faith is higher than it’s ever been.”

Did the workload tire Brown? He played 44 minutes, same for Tatum, and they combined to get two baskets in the fourth quarter after spending so much energy during a comeback third quarter. This was partly due to poor play from the bench, putting more pressure on Brown and Tatum to produce. Still, it was a risky decision by coach Ime Udoka; Brown and Tatum draw all the attention and therefore must work harder than others. That workload combined with minutes can be costly.

“Decision-making and fatigue could be a part of it,” Udoka said.

The Celtics aren’t talented enough to overcome off-nights by Brown. He’s too crucial to the cause, too valuable to afford lapses. And when the Celtics can’t break 100 points, that’s a recipe for disaster.

4. Poole beating Celtics, Curry in half-court heaves

It might be foolish to challenge a player recognized as the greatest shooter in history in regular half-court shooting contests, but that’s what the Warriors like about Jordan Poole — he’s fearless.

Well: Who knew those contests in practice with Curry would not only spill over into the Finals, but also change the pace if not the outcome, not just once, but twice?

Poole dropped a shot from v-e-r-y deep that beat the third-quarter buzzer by a nano-second. He celebrates, the crowd celebrates. But it was more meaningful than that. Some perspective is needed.

In that quarter, the Celtics flipped the momentum in their favor. Trailing by double-digits for much of the first half, they opened the quarter with a 10-0 run and eventually went ahead by five. The score and body language was in their favor … until the Warriors chipped away, little by little.

Phantom Cam: Poole banks in 37-foot buzzer-beater

What Poole did was snatch all the momentum back with one 38-footer, that banked in at that. After falling behind, the Warriors had a one-point lead entering the fourth. The noise inside Chase Center was two-fold: crowd cheering and wind being sucked out of the Celtics.

After that, the Warriors owned the fourth quarter and claimed the win. This was eerily similar to Game 2 when Poole ended the third quarter with a shot taken just a few feet further, and also changed the flavor of the game. Imagine being 100% from 38 feet or longer in the championship round.

“When it’s end of the shot clock or end of the quarters, I always want those and my teammates always look for me on those,” he said.

If Poole does nothing else in this series, he’ll always have the two longest, if not biggest, shots in the Finals. That’s something Curry can’t claim, unless this “contest” takes an unexpected turn in the next game (or two).

5. But there’s good news for the Celtics!

They lost consecutive games for the first time this postseason and looked mostly horrid doing so, melting when it counted. All well documented.

But they’re also 3-0 in elimination games this season and will be at home for Game 6. At this point, that’s what the Celtics must grasp, with everything else seemingly starting to weaken if not fade altogether.

Their pivotal moment this postseason was winning a Game 6 in Milwaukee with Tatum getting 46 points. Then they followed with a convincing Game 7 clincher at home (by 25 points). In the East finals, Boston won another Game 7, this one by four, in Miami. The essence of these Celtics — the hard response, the refusal to wither in the moment of truth, the beyond-their-years maturity — surfaced in the span of those moments.

Moments that, right now, seem so long ago.

“This is the time we look each other in the eye and we got to figure it out,” said Horford.

Problem for Boston is the Warriors are experienced at snatching dreams and championships. They have two chances to win one, and Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, based on their history together, look to finish the job as quickly as possible. In such situations, the Warriors are unflinching.

“This whole season has led to this, guys getting better, guys getting healthy and here we are, we have a chance,” said coach Steve Kerr. “We are excited to be in this spot.”

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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