Tonight is Game Five of the NBA Finals and whoa Nellie, is it a big one for the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. Arguably it’s bigger for the Warriors, who face a possible elimination game on the road if they drop this one, and there’s a ridiculous rate of success for teams who win Game 5 in the Finals under the current 2-2-1-1-1 format. But how have the Warriors done in big Game Fives in the Curry era?
They’ve rarely faced a 2-2 tie - only six times in 26 previous playoff series - and they’re 3-3 in such games, 3-1 since 2015. But there’s been a few other big Game Fives and the results are…mixed. However, they’re 2-0 in Game Fives where Kevin Durant goes down with an Achilles injury, and 12-2 in all home Game Fives of the Curry Era. Let’s look at some big ones!
2013 - Warriors @ Nuggets
The Warriors went into Denver with a 3-1 lead and a chance to close out their first playoff series since 2007, and only their second since 1991. But the Nuggets came out very aggressive and physical after a return home, going up by double digits in the first quarter and leading by as many as 22 points before the Warriors rallied in the fourth quarter. Steph Curry scored just 15 points as he was clobbered every time he went through the lane on his injured ankle, and the Dubs’ hot three-point shooter was Harrison Barnes, who shot 5-10 from deep.
Mark Jackson complained that the Nuggets were playing dirty, and reported that one Nugget didn’t like it: “I got inside information that some people don’t like that brand of basketball and they clearly didn’t co-sign it. They wanted to let me know they have no parts in what was taking place.” Legend has it that player was Denver’s leading scorer, future Warrior Andre Iguodala, who had 25 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists in the game. (Future Warrior JaVale McGee had ten points and five offensive rebounds) So not only was it a crucial moment with Andre’s future - he’d land with Golden State two months later - but it was also the game where Draymond Green committed his first playoff flagrant foul ever!
2013 - Warriors @ Spurs
Four games into the second-round matchup with San Antonio, the Warriors seemed like the better team. The series was tied at two games each, but it took a last-second Manu Ginobili bomb to beat the Dubs in double overtime in Game One, a game where Mark Jackson rested Cury for just four seconds. Curry had a 22-point second quarter but couldn’t make another three on his exhausted legs afterward. The fatigue, plus Curry’s sprained ankle from Game 3, led to listless performance for the Warriors in Game Five, where Curry scored just nine points and Klay Thompson had just four, as Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard hounded him off the three-point line all game and Tony Parker lit up the Warriors for 25 points. Harrison Barnes matched him with 25, but the Black Falcon leading the team in scoring wasn’t usually a good sign. The exhausted Warriors would drop Game 6 at home to the Spurs, who were one rebound away from winning the title a month later.
2014 - Warriors @ Clippers
Game Five of the first-round series between the Warriors and Clippers almost didn’t happen. Four days earlier, leaked recordings revealed Clippers owner Donald Sterling making a series of racist comments. Before Game Four, Clippers players turned their warmups inside out to hide the team logo, then threw them in a pile at halfcourt. With the series tied 2-2, players on both teams were prepared to boycott the fifth game - until new commissioner Adam Silver announced that morning that Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life. Energized, the Clippers jumped out to a big first quarter lead and while the Warriors briefly took a one-point lead in the third, Chris Paul’s 20 points and five steals (and Steph Curry’s eight turnovers) were too much to overcome. They’d take Game Six at home before narrowly losing a Game Seven shootout despite Curry’s 33 points and five three-pointers from Draymond Green. Maybe the Warriors should buy Blake Griffin a courtside seat to inspire Draymond to shoot better tonight.
2015 - Grizzlies @ Warriors
The 67-win Warriors were on the ropes after going down 2-1 in Memphis, but rebounded in Game Four thanks to a defensive adjustment that forced Grizzlies defensive stud Tony Allen off the floor, and a hamstring injury kept him off the court in Game Five. In classic Warriors playoff fashion, they fell behind by 13 early, but Curry’s four first-quarter threes brought them back - and his six steals helped the Warriors defense hold Memphis to 78 points. They shot 14-30 from three-point range, Andrew Bogut blocked four shots, and the Warriors never trailed for the final seven quarters of the series on their way to their first Finals in 40 years.
2015 - Cavaliers @ Warriors
Tied at two games each, the NBA Finals went back to Oakland, and Steph Curry went crazy from deep. He hit seven three-pointers in the game, including three in his 17-point fourth quarter to ice the game. LeBron James went for 16 in the quarter, part of his game-high 40, but the Warriors made him take 34 shots to get there. Cleveland took a one-point lead midway through the 4th after LeBron hit a 34-footer, but the Splash Brothers answered with back-to-back threes. The game almost became a blowout, but Cleveland’s Hack-a-dala strategy led to Andre missing six straight free throws, but the Dubs held on to win 104-91. They also missed seven free throws in the 4th quarter of Game 6, but escaped with the title.
2016 - Blazers @ Warriors
The Warriors defeated the best Portland Trail Blazers team of the Damian Lillard era in 2016, but it wasn’t an easy five games. They needed Steph Curry to return from injury to score 40 points off the bench and 17 points in overtime to steal Game Four, and then the Splash Brother outdueled Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Game Five. The Blazers duo went for 55 points - Lillard shot 28%, but made all 12 of his free throws - but Steph had 29 points and five threes, and Klay had a monster game, shooting 13-17 with six triples to finish with 33 points. Meanwhile Allen Crabbe shot his way into a huge multi-year contract with his five threes, a deal that immediately became an albatross.
2016 - Thunder @ Warriors
Down 3-1 and reeling after dropping two games in Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points, the Warriors got a huge team effort to hold off the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 71 points, but also combined to miss 36 shots and turn the ball over ten times. Meanwhile the Warriors got 31 points and five steals from Curry, 27 points from Thompson, 15 points and 14 rebounds from Andrew Bogut, and 13 rebounds and four blocks from Draymond. The unsung hero was Mo Speights, who had 14 off the bench, including five big ones to extend their lead in the 4th quarter. The Dubs would go on to overcome a 3-1 deficit and go to the Finals, definitely the most memorable 3-1 comeback they’ve ever been a part of.
2016 - Cavaliers @ Warriors
A highly, highly questionable flagrant foul call on Draymond Green - it wasn’t called a foul at all live - exiled him and Bob Myers to a luxury box at the neighboring Oakland Coliseum for Game Five of the 2016 Finals. Klay and Steph went for 37 and 25 points respectively, but that couldn’t match LeBron and Kyrie Irving both pouring in 41 points. They even dominated in the third quarter, usually the Warriors’ domain, with 11 points and two threes each, shooting 80%. Golden State cut the lead to six in the 4th quarter, but Kyrie effectively ended the game with three unanswered buckets. Draymond had to stay at the baseball game, and in a terrible omen for Game 7, Steve Kerr played the ancient and flailing Anderson Varejao for nearly nine minutes. We all know what happened in the next two games.
2017 - Cavaliers @ Warriors
Golden State cruised in the first two games of the Finals and outslugged Cleveland in Game 3, with Kevin Durant hitting a big shot and Iguodala getting a measure of revenge by blocking LeBron late. After the Warriors lost Game Four in a game where they were called for a not-at-all-suspicious 12 first-quarter fouls, they returned to Oakland and rode a huge 38-point second quarter to victory - they had a 28-4 run. Durant had 39 and Curry had 34, shooting 60% combined, and 9-14 in the 4th quarter. But they needed Iguodala’s efficient 20 points (9-14 shooting) to win on a night where J.R. Smith hit seven of eight threes, LeBron had 41 points on 30 shots, and Kyrie’s jumper had more arc than the flat earth as he scored 26, but the Warriors avenged their 2016 loss.
2018 - Warriors @ Rockets
For two teams featuring former scoring champions, the 2018 series between Houston and Golden State had become a defensive slog by Game Five. Tied 2-2, the Rockets led nearly the whole way, but when Draymond Green made a three with 1:15 to go, it was a one-point game. On the next play, Chris Paul hit the deck after a missed jumper. It looked like he was flopping, but it turned out to be a series-ending hamstring injury for him. While he laid on the ground, Quinn Cook had a wide-open three-pointer with a 5-on-4 advantage, but his shot clanked off the rim and the Warriors lost 98-94. But without Paul, Houston lost the last two games by 29 and 9 points.
2019 - Clippers @ Warriors
The surprisingly feisty 8-seeded Clippers didn’t care that they were down 3-1 in the first round on 2018. They went out and took it to the Warriors, who’d won the previous two games in LA, by matching their shot-making. It was 41-37 Warriors after a quarter, and 71-63 Clippers at the half. The Warriors came back from ten points down in the 4th, and when Durant dunked to make it 118-117, it looked like the Dubs were heading to round two. But the Clippers stunned them with an 8-0 individual run by Lou Williams, despite the Warriors grabbing three offensive rebounds in that stretch. LA won 129-121 before Durant slammed the door with 50 points in Game Six. It was a bad omen about the final postseason at Oracle, as the Warriors dropped two home games in this series and would drop all three home contests in the Finals.
2019 - Rockets @ Warriors
The Rockets and Warriors were tied 2-2 for a second straight year heading to Oakland this time. The Warriors had lost most of an early 14-point lead when Kevin Durant hit a jumper to go up 68-65, then injured his leg. They called it a calf strain, but we know now he tore his Achilles tendon, at least a little bit
Without KD, the Warriors leaned on Steph, who had 12 points in the 4th, and Klay, who had seven on three huge shots, including a game-clinching layup on a wild sequence where Kevon Looney grabbed a loose ball - he also hit Klay for a three after an offensive rebound.
The “Full Squad” effort continued in Game 6 when the Warriors got contributions from 11 players, keeping the team even as Curry had a nightmare first half - then scored 33 in the second half to knock out Houston for the fourth time in five playoffs.
2019 - Warriors @ Raptors
Down 3-1, Kevin Durant heroically came back to start Game Five of the Finals in Toronto, and scored 11 points before completely tearing his Achilles in the second quarter. Without him, the Warriors survived an offensive assault in the second half from Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and Fred VanVleet thanks to Klay Thompson’s Game Six magic arriving a game early, as he drilled four three-pointers in the second half. Down six points with two and a half minutes to play, Klay made a three, Steph made a three, and Klay made another three, and the Warriors held on when Draymond blocked Lowry at the buzzer.
The Warriors were up five points when Danny Green fouled Thompson in Game Six and Klay tore his ACL, but they couldn’t quite survive having to play Quinn Cook in crunch time, and missed a series-tying shot with eight seconds left.