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NBA WEEK: Celtics get Smart in Boston big three party to put Warriors in trouble

Marcus Smart. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Expert
9th June, 2022
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Charles Barkley famously didn’t know much about Angola before the Dream Team played them in the  1992 Olympics but “I know that Angola is in trouble”.

It’s hard also to find Golden State on a map but the Warriors are in trouble.

Losing game three of the NBA Finals on Thursday in Boston is clearly a problem as it means they’re now down 2-1 to the Celtics after earling surrendering home-court advantage when they lost the series opener.

But it was the manner in which they lost 116-100 which should have Warriors coach Steve Kerr racking his brains.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shot well to pour in 31 and 25 points respectively, Andrew Wiggins was his usual good but not great in adding 18 but whoever else was on the floor struggled.

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Boston’s swarming defence has shut down Jordan Poole, who scored just 10  to go with his 17 (mainly when game two was over) and nine from the first two matches, while Draymond Green and the other Warriors are giving them little to nothing at the offensive end.

And to make matters worse for the Warriors, when they’re able to get a body on the Celtics’ main scorer, Jayson Tatum, then Jaylen Brown gets hot. And when they can focus on those two, someone else steps up – it was veteran Al Horford in the game-one upset and on Thursday it was Marcus Smart with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

With his green hair making him look like he’s auditioning for a role as a Batman villain, Smart still brings the crazy to the Celtics squad but he’s much more measured these days and while he can still unsettle opponents, his ability to settle his team is more valuable.

Marcus Smart. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Smart, Tatum (26, six and nine) and Brown (27, nine and five) became the first trio since LA Lakers legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper in 1984 to record 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a final.

Sharing is caring in Boston. 

They now just need to hold home court in games four and six and the NBA Championship will be showered in kelly green confetti for the first time since 2008. 

Only eight finals series have gone the distance since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 and Boston’s best hope is to avoid a game seven in San Francisco by taking two of the next three contests.

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Easier said than done. The Warriors, with the championship pedigree which comes from winning three titles from five trips to the finals since 2015, will hit back, particularly in game four at Boston, but whether they can maintain momentum over a 48-minute stretch is under question. 

Golden State have won at least one road game in their past 26 playoff series, an all-time NBA record which started way back in 2013.

In an age of more free agency movement and forced trades by stars than ever before, there is something refreshing about seeing these teams battle it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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They have both built through the draft while adding complementary pieces rather than going for the quick fix of a blockbuster trade to acquire an All Star by mortgaging their future.

The Warriors were perennially bad before they drafted and stuck by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as the core of their golden era.

Boston had an ageing roster on the verge of some lean times when they caught a lucky break when Brooklyn were desperate for stars in 2013 to appease new owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s short-sighted desire to fast-track their pursuit of a title.

The Russian oligarch famously declared he would get married if he didn’t snare a trophy within five years and unsurprisingly, the Nets’ decision to go for the quick fix failed and Prokhorov backtracked on his wedding vow before selling the franchise.

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Boston have played the long game ever since with Tatum and Brown superb picks at No.3 in their respective drafts while Smart at No.6 (just behind Dante Exum to Utah in 2014) has been a source of frustration at times but his rise to NBA Defensive Player of the Year and more importantly, becoming the genuine point guard that Boston have needed, is a key part of their rise to the top in 2022.

And by 2022, it’s the calendar year – up until New Year’s Eve, the Celtics were mired in mediocrity, dropping to 16-19 after a three-game losing streak.

The ongoing speculation about whether Brown and Tatum worked together was flaring up again, rookie coach Ime Udoka’s credentials were questioned and Smart was yet again seemingly headed for the trading block.

But with Smart embracing the role of floor general without trying to jack up low-percentage shots as frequently, Boston flourished and went 35-12 to finish the regular season in second spot before accounting for the Nets, defending champion Bucks and Heat in the playoffs.

The return of Horford for a second stint in Boston after a couple of unsuccessful seasons at Philadelphia and OKC – when they weren’t shielding him from the court – has not only given them veteran savvy in the frontcourt, he’s the perfect partner for young centre Robert Williams III.

Some of those blocks he swatted away at the rim against the Warriors were supreme feats of athleticism.

Williams, along with unrelated namesake Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis are not stars but are role players who the Celtics put their faith in via the draft and are now receiving the return on their long-term investment.

Horford, when he first joined Boston from Atlanta in 2016, put out a tweet to announce his decision that said: “Celtic Pride!!!!” with 18 four-leaf clover emojis — one representing each of Boston’s 17 NBA titles plus another for the one he wanted to deliver.

It’s been a while coming and he’s taken a roundabout route to get there but he’s just two more wins from helping the Celtics get that 18th title.

And that would lift them above the Lakers into outright first place on the list of most NBA championships.

NBA Finals schedule 

Game 4 at TD Garden: Sunday, June 12 at 11am AEST

Game 5 at Chase Center: Tuesday, June 14 at 11am AEST

Game 6 at  TD Garden: Friday, June 17 at 11am AEST

Game 7 at Chase Center: Monday, June 19 at 10am AEST

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