By Martin Rogers
There are all sorts of statistical factors that can help explain what’s going on in these NBA Finals, and why. Golden State Warriors maybe about winning them.
The Celtics’ offensive efficiency spiraled out of control, reaching 125.5 points per 100 possessions in their wins compared to 95.5 in their losses.
Draymond Green, despite some hesitation, makes the players he defends shoot 18.9% worse than usual.
Boston, with a whopping 17.2% of offensive possessions, is turning the ball over and Golden State is averaging 1.12 points across all possessions that start with defensive rebounds, free throws, and so on. But enough with the numbers.
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Despite Steph Curry recording his 233-game streak with 3-pointers and 22.5% 3-pointers and Jason Tatum scoring 27 points, the Celtics couldn’t get the job done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a data skeptic or a statistics skeptic. Heck, analytics and its interpretation have been some of the biggest advances in basketball – and in all sports – over the last decade and change.
However, you should also remember that this is not a game played by robots. Mentality, psychology, and tiny real-world factors — like whether a key player got a good night’s sleep or not — play a monumental role in the fate of shows like this one.
If one observation can be made after five games, it’s that the Warriors, perhaps because they’ve been here before, are a little more open to outside noise. “Laser focusing” is not quite the right definition for them. In fact, that would be the best description for the Celtics, who seemed determined to block everything else and stay in the moment.
For the Warriors, there is total concentration, but also a willingness to accommodate part of the surrounding circus and use it as fuel.
There are no “no comments” in their media accessibility sessions. Golden State hears and sees what is happening and accepts it. Players know that this is a series filled with spice, pressure, cross-country jokes, and they are fine with that.
When a Boston bar hung a sign criticizing the cooking skills of Curry’s wife (Ayesha Curry is a best-selling cookbook author), the Warriors’ well-aimed mascot didn’t catch on, clapping back quite publicly.
The bar sign “Ayesha Curry Can’t Cook” was greeted with a matching jersey from her husband after the fifth game. A devastating run in the second half secured a 104–94 win and a 3–2 series lead.
A few days earlier, when Greene was being criticized for poor academic performance, his mother Mary Babers joked on Twitter that perhaps the clone had replaced her son.
Instead of brushing off the problem, Green stepped in, admitting that his mother was right. “I saw my mom tweet that it was a tough show for me,” smiled Green. “Absolutely, absolutely.”
Warriors security didn’t find it funny when a Clay Thompson impersonator infiltrated the court during pre-Game 5 warm-ups, but Golden State players certainly laughed at it.
And at a time of the year when, more than any other time, you think all outside factors will be dismissed, the Warriors stay on the beat of the Finals, peeking out from behind the bubble from time to time.
Maybe this is the secret. When it comes to mentality, it’s a nuance. Each team has a sports psychologist. Many players have their own. There are countless different approaches and they are not suitable for everyone. Indeed, in a seven-game series lasting more than two weeks, the same approach that worked at the beginning may not last until the end.
The Warriors aren’t on the same keel every night. But returning to a general sense of relaxed intensity worked well for them.
“We play like we play in the locker room,” Warriors center Kevon Looney recently told reporters. “It’s fast, free, disciplined. Everyone in the locker room is having fun, everyone is contributing, and while you’re working, you can enjoy what you’re doing. Music will play, while you are working, the guys will joke.
This atmosphere has many effects. It makes even the guys on the bench feel like they’re part of it. It helps to reduce stress during difficult times.
It helps to put the losses in perspective, and now that there is only one victory left before the triumph, the seriousness of the moment does not seem too intimidating. This frivolity could soon lead the Warriors to their fourth title in eight years.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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