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NBA Finals Game 6: Can Celtics stop turning the ball over?

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TV: 9 p.m. ET | ABC

BetMGM Line: Celtics -3.5

With 6:45 remaining in Game 4, the Golden State Warriors stared at a 91-86 deficit and a potential 3-1 series hole in the NBA Finals. A 21-6 run and a Game 5 win later, and they're on the brink of a fourth NBA championship in eight seasons — one win away from reviving a once-dormant dynasty to the ranks of the league's all-time elite.

Standing in their way is a desperate Boston Celtics team anchored by 24- and 25-year-old All-Stars playing in their first Finals, humbled by their elders in 55 minutes of basketball that's swung the narrative of a championship series. The Celtics are down, 3-2. But they aren't done yet. And they've got a Game 6 at home to keep the series alive.

Boston must take care of the ball

Win or lose the NBA Finals, one stat will stand out above all others for the Celtics: turnovers. Boston looked unbeatable at times through these playoffs, capable of smothering defense and 3-point heights not even the Warriors have seen. The Celtics rode their superior size, athleticism and youth to dominant stretches against quality opponents.

At other moments, they've looked lost, out of sync and outmatched by teams and players who have been here before. The culprit in those moments is almost always turnovers leading to easy buckets. In two wins against the Warriors, the Celtics turned the ball over 12 times in each game. In three losses, they've averaged 17 giveaways with at least 15 in each game.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 02: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors knocks the ball free from Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter in Game One of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 02, 2022 in San Francisco, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum and the Celtics must limit their turnovers moving forward. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The story was the same in a 4-3 series win over the Miami Heat in the East finals. In four victories, the Celtics averaged 11.5 turnovers per game, limiting themselves to nine giveaways twice. In three losses, they averaged 18.7, including an ugly 23-turnover effort in Game 3. It's as reliable a predictive stat as any other in these playoffs.

Leading the way: Jayson Tatum, who has seen his regular-season average of 2.9 turnovers per game spike to 4.1 in the postseason. In Monday's Game 5 loss, he broke the record for most turnovers by one player in a single postseason with his 95th. It's the type of résumé ding that makes the drumbeat case for his superstar status a tough sell — especially in a losing effort. He and the Celtics have two chances to turn things around.

So the Warriors don't need a big game from Steph?

After Stephen Curry's 43-point hero performance in Game 4, he looked like the obvious Warriors key to winning the series. The Celtics may be bigger, younger and more athletic. But Golden State has Steph.

Then the Warriors messed around and won Game 5 while Steph stunk up the joint. As Curry failed to make a 3-pointer (on nine tries) for the first time in 133 playoff games, Andrew Wiggins took over as leading man while Klay Thompson, Gary Payton II and Jordan Poole all shone in secondary roles. This Warriors supporting cast is on the verge of proving a chorus of doubters wrong.

Will Game 6 Klay show up?

Game 6 Klay is a real thing. In a six-game stretch spanning from 2016-19, Thompson averaged 27.8 points per game on 53.8% shooting from 3-point distance while connecting on 5.8 3-pointers per game in Game 6s. That, of course, was all before a pair of devastating injuries sidelined him for more than two seasons.

Post-injury Klay is most certainly not the same player, especially on the defensive end. But he is capable of catching fire with the ball, as evidenced by his 5-of-11 effort from 3-point distance in Game 5. Was it a precursor to the return of Game 6 Klay when it matters most?