By Don Wanlass
There is a lot at stake when the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics meet in game six of the NBA Finals June 16.
The Warriors are seeking their fourth NBA title in eight seasons. That would establish their legacy as one of the top teams in NBA history, if slightly down the list from the 1960s Celtics, the 1980s or early 2000 Lakers teams or Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1990s.
For Boston, it would be the franchise’s 18th overall championship, putting them one ahead of the Lakers. The Celtics trail the series 3-2 after losing game 5 104-94 June 13.
The game 5 win for the Warriors was the first time a team won back-to-back games in the series. Most of the games have been close, with the fourth quarter the deciding factor in every game except game 2, when the Warriors led 87-64 going into the fourth quarter and were only outscored by four points in the final 12 minutes.
Steph Curry is the one superstar playing in the finals. The Warriors all-star guard is averaging 30.6 points a game on 46.6% shooting, 41.7% from three-point range.
But Curry has lots of help, with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole all stepping up at one point or another for the Warriors.
After a slow start, Thompson is up to 18 points a game. After missing the past two seasons with serious injuries, Thompson isn’t as good defensively as he used to be and isn’t the pure shooter he once was, but he has hit some big shots in the series.
Wiggins, a former overall No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, has blossomed in the last two games, averaging 21.5 points and 14.5 rebounds as the Warriors bounced back from a 2-1 deficit to win games 4 and 5 and take control of the series.
Wiggins also has provided good defense on Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics are more of a blue-collar team that the flashier Warriors. They get it done with hard-nosed defense and solid team play.
Marcus Smart was the NBA’s defensive player of the year and he has guarded Curry, Thompson, Poole and sometimes Wiggins in this series.
Although shooting only 37.3% in the series, Tatum is bordering on superstardom, leading the Celtics in points, rebounds and assists per game with 23.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7 assists. Those are all-star numbers anytime, but they stand out in the NBA Finals.
Brown is averaging 21.4 points a game and Smart is averaging 16.4. Derek White, who averages 28.5 minutes a game off the bench, provides a spark whenever he is on the floor, averaging 11.2 points a game, more then starting big men Al Horford or Robert Williams III, whose roles are to protect the rim defensively and grab rebounds.
The series opened with the Celtics blowing out the Warriors 40-16 in the fourth quarter on the way to a 120-108 win.
The Warriors returned the favor in the third quarter in game 2, outscoring the Celtics, 35-14 to add to a two-point halftime lead in a 107-88 win.
Game 3 featured another dominant fourth quarter from the Celtics and a 116-100 victory.
But Curry scored 43 in a 107-97 Warriors win in game 4 and Poole and Gary Payton II combined for 29 points off the bench to go with Wiggins’ 26 and Thompson’s 21 in a 104-94 game 5 win.
The Warriors have more offensive weapons than the Celtics.
Curry, Wiggins, Thompson and Poole are all good shooters and when Payton chimes in like he did in game 5, they are hard to stop.
Tatum, Brown and Smart will get points for the Celtics, but they need Horford to hit an occasional three-pointer and White to continue to play well off the bench to combat the Warriors’ firepower.
Then there is the Swiss Army knife the Warriors possess in Draymond Green. He brings a physical presence and a savvy basketball IQ. He doesn’t score a lot — 5 points a game in the series — but he rebounds (7.2 a game), passes the ball (5.8 assists per game, which leads the Warriors), plays tough defense and agitates the Celtics and their fans with his on-court antics.
He isn’t as valuable as Curry necessarily, but he is equally essential to the Warriors’ success.
If the Warriors win this thing (and I think they will), he will end up making a key play in the clinching game.
SLIDING DODGERS: Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner is probably the best slider in Major League Baseball. Maybe he can get his team out of the current slide they are in.
After going 13-7 in April (a .650 winning percentage), and 20-9 in May (.690), the Dodgers are 5-7 in June. You would think the sky had fallen in the way their fans are reacting.
Yes, the Dodgers have hit a bad streak. Most of their hitters have stopped hitting and their pitchers keep getting hurt.
The Padres are now tied for first in the National League West and the Giants have crept within three games in the standings after sweeping the Dodgers last weekend in San Francisco.
Yes, there have been disappointments in the first two-plus months of the season. Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy haven’t hit like they have shown they can in the past.
At 37, Turner may be getting old. Muncy looks like he is still recovering from the elbow injury he suffered at the end of last season. Bellinger is still in search of the swing that won him the National League most valuable player award in 2019.
Julio Urias, the only 20-game winner in the majors last season, is 3-6 so far this season. His 2.80 earned run average indicates he may have pitched better than his record indicates, but he hasn’t been as dominant as he was last year.
Walker Buehler is the latest Dodgers pitcher to wind up on the injured list. He was 6-3 on the season, but his ERA was an inflated 4.02 and he hadn’t pitched well recently.
His injured elbow will probably keep him out until September, but that could prove to be a good thing for the Dodgers’ pitching staff.
Andrew Heaney is expected to come off the injured list this week and take Buehler’s spot in the rotation.
Heaney was brilliant in his first two starts this season, going 1-0 and yielding only four hits in 10-plus innings before his shoulder flared up on him. If he returns anywhere near that form he will solidify the rotation that Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson have kept afloat so far.
Gonsolin improved to 8-0 June 14 in a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels. He gave up one hit in 6-plus innings, struck out six while lowering his ERA to a league-leading 1.42, while outdueling Noah Syndergard.
Anderson got knocked around by the Giants in his most recent outing, but he is 7-0 while replacing Heaney in the rotation and is making Dodgers front office boss Andrew Friedman look like a smart man for signing him in the off-season.
Anderson had a record of 36-38 with a 4.48 ERA in his first six seasons in the majors. He is 7-0 with a 3.07 ERA right now and has made himself an essential part of the Dodgers’ rotation.
The Dodgers’ bullpen has slumped along with the team in June.
Closer Craig Kimbrel gave the Dodgers fans a scare June 14. He entered the game in the ninth inning to preserve a 2-0 lead and, after getting an out, loaded the bases on a bloop single by Mike Trout, a double by Shohei Ohtani and a walk to Matt Duffy.
He then struck out Jared Walsh and Max Stassi to win the game and earn his 12th save in 13 chances.
Back in 1980, the Dodgers signed a relief pitcher named Don Stanhouse after he had two successful seasons closing for the Baltimore Orioles with 45 combined saves in those two years.
Then-Orioles manager Earl Weaver nicknamed Stanhouse “Full Pack,” because Weaver said he smoked a full pack of cigarettes whenever Stanhouse pitched because he made him nervous.
Kimbrel does the same thing to me. He’s a closer who likes the high-wire pressure of closing and sometimes induces more pressure by putting runners on base.
Kimbrel already has more saves this year than Stanhouse recorded in his one season with the Dodgers (seven) and Stanhouse only pitched 17 more games in the major leagues after leaving the Dodgers.
Kimbrel is no Stanhouse. In baseball, only a late-game pinch hitter has as much pressure as a closer and pinch hitters aren’t as successful as most closers are. Kimbrel happens to be the current career leader in saves. He will be fine. Just like Kenley Jansen was last year when Dodgers fans were movung his every appearance.
The Dodgers will be fine, too. They still have more than two weeks in June to get their record back above .500 for the month. That will happen. Mark my words.
ODDS AND ENDS: Both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club return to action this week after Major League Soccer took a break for international play.
LAFC plays the Seattle Sounders in Seattle at noon June 18 in a nationally televised game on ABC.
The Galaxy host Portland at 2 p.m. June 18 in a game that will be shown on ESPN.
LAFC sits atop the MLS Western Conference standings with nine wins and 29 points. The Galaxy have seven wins and 23 points for fifth place in the conference, but only two points out of second place. …
The U.S. Open golf tournament will be interesting to watch this weekend (NBC), if only because of the presence of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson following their appearances in the LIV Tournament last weekend in London.
Mickelson and Justin are the two biggest names on the LIV circuit, which has made a splash in the golf world with its format (team as well as individual scores, 54-hole tournaments with no cut and 48 player fields) and large prize money funded by Saudi Arabia.
But it will take more than Mickelson, who at 52, is well past his prime on the PGA Tour, and Johnson to make LIV more than a novelty, especially until it gets a bigger broadcast partner than YouTube.
The U.S. Open is always a competitive field. This year should be no different.