Warriors can blame Game 3 loss, Steph Curry sprained foot on their rebound issue


BOSTON — If Steph Curry’s foot sprain late in the fourth quarter turns into the defining moment of the NBA Finals, if it spreads or hinders Curry’s impact enough to send the Warriors quietly into their summer without a fourth title, they have a failed box- to blame.

Jayson Tatum posted Klay Thompson with 4:20 left and the Celtics up 12. Boston eventually won 116-100 to jump 2-1 in the series. But, at this particular point, the Warriors still had a weak life. They would just need to throw a near-perfect game in the final four minutes.

Thompson started with a solid defense on Tatum, forcing a contested miss from 14 feet. But watch Marcus Smart crash from the perimeter. Jordan Poole barely marks it on the way to the pass, while Curry and Andrew Wiggins watch the ball, allowing Smart to slip in between and hit the rebound in a loose ball run.

This set off a pinball chain of events that ended with Al Horford’s weight dropping onto Curry’s left foot. Curry limped out of the arena slightly around 1 a.m., wincing every time he put weight on a sprained left foot he said was milder but similar to the injury he suffered against Boston in March, forcing him to miss a month.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing a game,” Curry said. “Use these next 48 hours to prepare.”

It is too early to know the full ramifications of this failure and the resulting injuries. But the streak serves as a punctuation point for the Warriors’ biggest problem in Game 3. They did not bring strength. They did not play physically. They haven’t boxed often enough. They were crushed on the glass.

“Like shit,” Draymond Green said when asked how he plays. “I was sweet.”

The Celtics had just 13 total offensive rebounds in San Francisco’s two games — six in the first, seven in the second. It’s a manageable amount. They’ve protected the glass well most of the playoffs and especially lately. The Mavericks had just nine, four, seven, four and six offensive rebounds in their five Conference Finals games against the Warriors.

In Game 3, the Celtics had 15 offensive rebounds. They recovered 40.8% of their misses. It’s a towering amount, and the movie tells an ugly story for the Warriors on the inside, where they were outscored 22-11 in second-chance points and 52-26 in the paint.

Here’s the first of Boston’s 15 offensive rebounds. Robert Williams runs past an inattentive Draymond Green, gets inside leverage on him and Kevon Looney and recovers a missed jumper. Another scramble ensues, but the Celtics outsmart the Warriors and end up sending it to Jaylen Brown for a made 3, the first three of their 22 second-chance points.

“We lost all the battles 50-50 today despite winning most of the playoffs,” Looney said.

The Warriors’ lone win in this series was partly defined by Green’s amped-up attitude and physique. As he goes, emotionally, his teammates often follow him. Green was lower energy and low impact in both losses. He finished with two points, four rebounds, three assists and six fouls in Game 3.

Here, Green is on Williams early in the second quarter. Williams fires a 7-foot hook just outside the paint. He doesn’t have the best touch, so it’s not a bad result for the Warriors. He leaves it short.

But Williams recovers it for a closer hook and a converted layup because Green doesn’t enter his body for a boxout after the first miss. Instead, he wanders over to the edge and watches the rebound bounce off his head. This is an unusual green error.

The Warriors choked the Celtics again in the meat of the third quarter, coming back all the way from that 17-point hole to briefly take the lead. But the decisive stretch came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when Grant Williams continued to beat the Warriors on offensive rebounds and Boston regained control of the game.

It’s the first of what would be three offensive rebounds from Grant Williams during that breakaway streak. Tatum misses a 3 from the right wing, but, again, Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. fail to get a body on a collapsing Celtics player. Grant Williams slips right in between them and knocks him down to Robert Williams, who pushes him back and forces a shooting foul.

It’s the third of Grant Williams’ three offensive rebounds. He arrives at the start of the fourth quarter. The Celtics extended their lead to nine. The game quickly slips from the Warriors. They leave Marcus Smart wide open on a corner 3, but he misses it.

Grab the defensive rebound, score on the ensuing possession, and things might look a little more stable. But Gary Payton II, Poole and basically anyone else in the mosh pit again fail to put a body on Grant Williams, who plays more physically than anyone on the court. He hooks it, puts it down and puts the Celtics up 11, forcing a timeout from Steve Kerr.

Given the defensive rebounding issues, it’s fair to wonder why Kevon Looney was only given 17 minutes. Looney had seven rebounds in those 17 minutes and was one of the league’s best rebounders in those playoffs, but Kerr opted to continue that game with mostly small-ball formation combinations.

“We have to consider what’s happening on the pitch, what we need,” Kerr said. “Do we need floor spacing? Do we need a better bounce? And we were kind of patching the holes tonight. They did a good job. They deserved the win. They put a lot of pressure on us and it felt like we were swimming upstream most of the night. So we couldn’t find that combination either way other than that stretch in the third when Steph got really hot. Impossible to find the right combination to find this balance.

When the Warriors bench Looney and go small, Green, Porter and Wiggins have to take responsibility for the defensive rebound. Wiggins had seven rebounds. Green had four. Porter only had one. Payton had one. Collectively, they were weak on the inside and lost the game — and potentially the series, given Curry’s unknown status — because of it.

(Photo of Grant Williams grabbing a key rebound in the deciding streak against the Warriors: Elsa/pool via USA Today)


Comments are closed.