SAN FRANCISCO — In Ime Udoka’s less-than-ten-minute press conference after the Celtics’ Game 2 loss in the Finals, he used the word “turnovers” 11 times when discussing his team’s offense. That should give you a decent hint at what Udoka felt was the cause behind Boston’s 107–88 defeat at the hands of the Warriors on Tuesday. Carelessness with the ball was the glaring issue among a few others for the Celts, whose scoring attack went from flamethrower in Game 1 to frigid as a windy day in the bay in Game 2.
Udoka was certainly not wrong to cite the giveaways as perhaps the biggest reason for Boston’s loss. This has been a playoffs-long issue now. When the Celtics throw away the ball, they don’t win. And while the Warriors deserve credit for their defensive intensity on Tuesday, many of Boston’s 18 turnovers were unforced errors. Bad passes, poor decision-making, rushing in transition, stepping out of bounds… those are all blunders Boston has the ability to clean up regardless of what Golden State is doing defensively. The giveaways were not simply the result of an overly aggressive scheme or constant hard traps or frequent blitzes. And those mistakes are ultimately multi-layered. Not only do the Warriors have a much better chance to score in transition than against the Celtics in the halfcourt, easier scores for the Dubs mean Boston has to take the ball out from under the hoop more often, which in turn makes life more difficult for the offense when it has to play against a set defense.
“It’s just kind of as simple as we’ve just got to take care of the ball,” Jayson Tatum said postgame. “We’ve done it, and we’re a really good team when we take care of the ball. But we have those lapses where we, snowball effect, we pile on turnovers and dig ourselves into a hole.”
Three-point shooting was another area in which Boston took a significant step back in Game 2. After shooting 21-of-41 from three to start the series, the Celtics connected on “only’ 15-of-37 on Sunday. That’s a 40.5% shooting percentage that should be good enough to win a game. (In fact, the Warriors took and made the exact same number of threes in Game 2.) And it would have been difficult for Boston to replicate its shooting from the opener, even if it had the exact same looks. But it’s worth noting the types of threes the Celtics took in Game 2 were much different than the ones that led to their Game 1 rout.
In the series’ first game, Boston took 36 catch-and-shoot threes, hitting 19 of them. That’s one less than the Celts’ entire total of shots from deep in Game 2, and that number was buttressed by some garbage time chucking. Udoka cited the Warriors’ better switching and—you guessed it—turnovers as a couple of the reasons for the decrease in three-point attempts. Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White combined to shoot 23 threes in Game 1, but only seven in Game 2, including zero for Horford.
Udoka also said Boston’s lack of paint penetration also prevented the kickout catch-and-shoot attempts the team racked up in the previous game. The Warriors deserve credit here for some of the adjustments they made. Not only was the switching more frequent and more focused, individual defenders also guarded their yard. Draymond Green took the Jaylen Brown assignment and did well, which allowed Klay Thompson—who struggled with Brown the game before—to matchup with Horford. Gary Payton II also played 25 minutes after not appearing in Game 1, and his on-ball defense helped disrupt Boston’s perimeter attack. With the inability to collapse the defense and force scrambles as they did in Game 1, the Celtics were not able to create the easy shots from deep that propelled them to victory.
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“Yeah, it definitely changed it,“ Horford said postgame about the three-point looks. “Right now, all I can say is that we just needed to move the ball more, get some more movement…I believe that we just have to play at our own pace, make sure that we’re driving the ball, driving and kicking. When we play like that, that’s when we’re really at our best.
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Two-big lineups were also an issue for Boston, and have been for two games now. In Game 2, Horford and Rob Williams were a minus-4 in 12 minutes. Daniel Theis and Grant Williams were a minus-10 in 12 minutes. And Horford and Grant were a minus-3 in eight minutes for good measure. This may end up being a slight pressure point for the Celtics, unless Udoka tightens his rotation considerably. The two-big lineups are vulnerable defensively, because they are less switchy and allow Stephen Curry to attack drop coverages. Offensively, they can be a bit of a crapshoot. In Game 2 for example, Horford wasn’t able to take advantage of Thompson as his primary defender, and struggled around the rim.
While Rob Williams has been a menace defensively, he’s also limited because of his knee injury and not playing big minutes. And with Grant not playing effectively so far either, the Celtics may be one smaller forward short to play small more frequently. One route could be to push the minutes of White, Smart, Tatum, Brown, and Horford all into the 40s, but that puts a lot of pressure on Payton Pritchard as basically the lone, non-big backup. (And after a solid Game 1, Pritchard was attacked more relentlessly in Game 2.)
Of course, it would be foolish to think Game 3 will be played on the exact same terms as Game 2. Much like how the series seemingly flipped in the two days off, more changes will be coming. There will be more shot, foul, and turnover variance as the Finals continue. But there are still moves on the board for Boston moving forward. Even if those directives are as simple as “Take care of the ball” and “Cut Theis’s minutes,” those are obvious ways the Celts can try to get back on track in Game 3. Still, with both teams still figuring out their best combos, expect more shifts as the series heads east.
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