SAN FRANCISCO – Golden State had been mucking up its offense for nearly the entire third quarter on Monday night when Andrew Wiggins pushed the ball ahead to Jordan Poole, a young guard with enormous confidence. Just before time expired, Poole launched a 3-pointer from 33 feet that banked off the glass before rattling through the hoop.
The heave was a buzzer-beating breath of life for Golden State in Game 5 of the NBA finals – and for the team’s white-knuckled fans, who rode waves of highs and lows before the Warriors pulled away for a 104-94 victory that time them on the cusp of another championship.
Golden State, which took a 3-2 lead in the series, can clinch its fourth title in eight seasons, and its first since 2018, when the team goes on the road to face Boston in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Wiggins led Golden State with 26 points, and Klay Thompson added 21. Jayson Tatum had a game-high 27 points for the Celtics in the loss.
After a solid start, Golden State was leading by 12, but four Jaylen Brown free throws and back-to-back 3-pointers by Tatum gave the Celtics the first 10 points of the second half, a surprising turn of events given by Golden State’s famously torrid third quarters. The Celtics soon took the lead when Marcus Smart and Al Horford connected on consecutive 3-pointers of their own, part of a 19-4 run.
Golden State missed its first eight 3-point attempts of the second half before Thompson finally made a couple, a much-needed boost for Golden State – and for Thompson, who had been having his share of struggles in the series.
After Poole punctuated the third quarter with his deep 3-pointer, a shot that had the home crowd at Chase Center in a state of near-delirium, his teammates seemed to ride that crest of emotion. By the time Thompson shed Smart to make another 3-pointer, Golden State was back up by 8 points.
After scoring 43 points in Golden State’s Game 4 win, Stephen Curry had a muted effort in Game 5, finishing with just 16 points and shooting 0 of 9 from the 3-point range. But his teammates delivered. Golden State appeared locked in from the start, passing the ball from side to side, from corner to corner, in constant pursuit of the best possible shot. Not that the team was always able to connect, shooting 3 of 17 from the 3-point range in the first half.
Still, Golden State went ahead by as many as 16 late in the first quarter before Boston began to chip away with Curry resting on the bench. Smart sank a 10-foot jumper. Robert Williams forced his way inside for a layup.
Golden State recalibrated as Curry secured a 51-39 lead at halftime with an up-and-under layup.
In the first half, Golden State was buoyed by Wiggins, who had 16 points and 7 rebounds, and by Draymond Green, who assembled one of his more assertive stretches of the finals. In the first four games of the series, he scored a total of 17 points. By halftime of Game 5, he had 8 points and was flying around the court.
Tatum, after laboring with his shot for much of the series, was doing what he could to keep the Celtics close, collecting 13 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.
Before the game, Celtics Coach Ime Udoka expressed concern that Tatum had been preoccupied with hunting for fouls rather than taking good shots. Udoka wanted him to be “more physical” on his drives.
“A lot of times he’s kind of floating, going off one leg, when he can plant and go off two, finish a little stronger,” Udoka said, adding: “We’re just telling him to be decisive. He’s done it all year, seen every coverage, and for the most part has kind of picked those apart. ”
For Golden State Coach Steve Kerr, Monday was the 25th anniversary of a poignant moment from his playing career. It was Kerr’s jump shot in Game 6 of the 1997 finals that clinched another championship for the Chicago Bulls – their fifth of the Michael Jordan era – against the Utah Jazz.
“Something every young basketball player dreams of,” he said, adding: “The finals are the finals, whether you’re playing or coaching. It’s the ultimate competition in the world of basketball. ”