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Small Screens: ‘NBA Finals’ Game 5 Review

There was an inking after ‘Game 4’ that the ‘Celtics’ group were going to get their due in the next episode of The NBA Finals, mainly given the ample screen time dedicated to the ‘Warriors’ primary protagonist, Steph Curry (Steph Curry), and because the series felt overdue for it. Love it or hate it, Finals distinguishes itself differently than past Adam Silver productions in that we’re five episodes deep and aside from Steph Curry, none of the main characters are especially clear. Instead, we have a rotating cast of characters that on a night by night basis come off like upstarts, antiheroes, everyday baddies, dreamers, extras and, let’s not forget, potential clones. All those roles have given us plenty to theorize over but by now, no clear person to root for.

So again, after the Steph Curry heavy reveal of ‘Game 4’, and its clear motivations for the group we know to be his teammates in this nocturnal conquest, it was exciting to believe we were going to get the same treatment of their adversaries, the ‘Celtics.’ Unfortunately, due to execution, unclear writing, strange acting decisions or a combination of all three, we didn’t get it.

It was a bold choice to have the ‘Celtics’ clarity episode come in the series’ third scene change, back to the comparatively demure approximation of ‘San Francisco’ from that writhing quagmire of green (loosely referred to as ‘Boston’), but then Ime Udoka is a bold co-director, and Silver loves strangely timed surprises.

Very quickly, that window for clarity closed.

By the seven minute mark of the show director Ime Udoka (at this point, also playing himself) called an abrupt scene and had his stars huddle around him. It remains a mystery whether these scene timeouts are points toward the overall plot or simply there for the audience to speculate on, but whatever was said was not enough to stir the voracity of this group into something recognizable from ‘Game 1’ or ‘Game 3’. Really, it seemed like the ire was raised only for Ime Udoka, who at the 12 minute mark was clearly furious with the direction this episode was taking early on. In a rare moment of clarity from the narrators we were told he’d been given a “technical” — hopefully some advice on how to best rouse his stars.

Physical stunts were prevalent in ‘Game 5’ but given the stilted action that stretched on throughout the episode (there were references to stars on the ‘Celtics’ side being “locked up”) the motivation for each was murky. In one scene, setting up a long-awaited confrontation between Draymond Green (Draymond Green) and Jaylen Brown (Jaylen Brown), Jaylen Brown dove and seemed to sit for some time on top of Draymond Green. Thus far in Finals, the only vehicles have been the bodies of the actors, this was the first time it was suggested that those “vehicles” could be co-opted by a rival. Again, it’s tough to say whether this was the intention of this stunt, or really if this was a piece of physical acting or a fumble, but Jaylen Brown really straddled him.

Another stunt later on in the episode came when Marcus Smart (Marcus Smart) got tangled up with novice Jordan Poole (Jordan Poole), and instead of separating, Marcus Smart was held onto by Jordan Poole. Despite the confusion of the earlier stunt, this felt strategic. Especially when Jordan Poole flung his head back to suggest he had been carelessly cast aside by Marcus Smart. It was overwrought, especially as Jordan Poole’s character — spoiler alert: up to then — had been largely absent from the action. Still, it’s interesting to see the actors of Finals so readily encouraged to commit to their own stunt work.

The physicality in ‘Game 5’ was initially what it seemed like this episode was going to be all about. Kevon Looney (Kevon Looney) was limping off set, Robert Williams III fell hard from an aerial stunt and lay flat on his back for some time, but the violence of the episode thankfully cooled in what’s become the show’s approximation of a golden hour — “the third quarter.”

This is a loose qualification of time we’ve grown used to seeing the ‘Warriors’ group use to their advantage, slipping out of binds like their own Scooby-Doo gang, or else restoring their collective honor against accumulating sleights. So the twist in ‘Game 5’ was genuinely shocking when it was instead the floundering ‘Celtics’ that took that stretch for their own. It was enjoyable, had tones of a classic redemptive heist story, but it didn’t last.

Instead, the camaraderie of that group, and any glimpse into the collective psyche of the ‘Celtics’, slipped back into the murky, what-is-even-happening, tone of ‘Game 5.’

If you’ve been watching (and reading) you’ve probably picked up on some of Finals alternate reality beats. They started subtly but have ratcheted up in obviousness as the series has worn on. Two impossible to miss moments came in ‘Game 5’. First, a graphic that loomed superimposed over the court for some time showed Gary Payton II (Gary Payton II), who we now understand to be part of the ‘Warriors’ faction, in no less than eight different previous realities. Is this a Multiverse of Madness rip?

Gary Payton Multiverse

The other came before the co-directors called action, when an apparent body double for Klay Thompson (Klay Thompson) took to the set during dress rehearsal. I’d be happy to cast it outside of the rest of the easter eggs placed in plain sight by Silver and the Finals writers, only that the narrators repeatedly referenced the incident, bringing it into the narrative.

And of course, the narration ceased to help at all in tying any of these disparate ends together. Once, prompted by nothing and no one, a narrator mused “The mindset has to be want the smoke, embrace the smoke” (Possible Lost reference? I give up), and later another gave us what could’ve been a riddle, but sounded like someone forgetting a sentence partway with, “Sometimes the pressure of a different role is not the right role for every player.” So I’m literally begging now, what are the narrators trying to tell us? Really, what?

The bright point in everything came of course when Steph Curry’s cast-mates responded to the outbursts we saw from him in ‘Game 4,’ by showing up to work in ‘Game 5.’ Jordan Poole let fly the orb to reclaim the all-important “third quarter” for the ‘Warriors’ and Andrew Wiggins (Andrew Wiggins), typically a more demure method actor, was hard to peel your eyes away from. Really, it was Emmy-worthy stuff from him.

While it does feel like the ‘Celtics’ arc still needs its due for Finals to come to a satisfying conclusion, this series hasn’t been green-lit for another season. For how exciting, how much the actors are putting their bodies through, even for how downright bizarre, you’d hate to see Finals get a rush-job treatment to close out the show.