SAN FRANCISCO – At Ime Udoka’s press conference less than 10 minutes after Celtics’ Game 2 lost in the Finals, he used the word “turnovers” 11 times when discussing his team’s attack. This should give you a good hint of what Odoka felt was the reason behind Boston’s 107-88 defeat at the hands of the Warriors on Tuesday. Careless handling of the ball was the glaring issue among a few others for the Celts, whose scoring attack turned from a flamethrower in Game 1 to the coldness of a windy day in the Gulf in Game 2.
Odoka was certainly not wrong in citing the endowment as perhaps the biggest reason for Boston’s loss. This has been a long qualifying affair now. When the Celtics throw the ball away, they don’t win. And while the Warriors deserved praise for their defensive strength on Tuesday, many of Boston’s 18 games were unintentional errors. Bad passes, bad decisions, rushes in transfers, out-of-bounds… these are all blunders Boston has the ability to clean up no matter what Golden State does defensively. The flashes weren’t just the result of an overly aggressive scheme, constant hard traps, or frequent blitzkrieg attacks. These errors, in the end, are multi-layered. Not only do the Warriors have a better chance of scoring in the transition than they do against the Celtics on the half-court, Dubs’ easier results mean that Boston has to get the ball out from under the hoop more often, making life more difficult for him. Offense when she has to play against a defense group.
“It’s kind of simple where we have to take care of the ball,” Jason Tatum said after the match. “We’ve done that, and we’re a really good team when we take care of the ball. But we have those loopholes where, under the snowball effect, we pile on transitions and dig ourselves into a hole.”
Three-point shooting was another area where Boston took a huge step backwards in Game Two. After shooting 21 of 41 of three to start the series, the Celtics called only 15 of 37 on Sunday. That’s a 40.5% payout rate that should be good enough to win the game. (Indeed, the Warriors took and scored exactly the same number of triples in game two) and it was hard for Boston to repeat the shooting from their opening game, even if it had the exact same look. But it’s worth noting that the types of triples the Celtics got in Game 2 were much different than the ones that led to the first game’s defeat.
In the series’ first game, Boston captured 36 triples, scoring 19 of them. That’s one less than the total shots the Celts took from Depths of Game 2, and that number was backed up by some idling time. Udoka cited the Warriors’ better transformation and – you guessed it – transformations as two reasons for the drop in three-point attempts. Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Derek White combined to shoot 23 triples in Game 1, but only seven in Game 2, including zero for Horford.
Odoka also said Boston’s lack of paint penetration also prevented attempts to catch and take the team’s kicks in the previous game. The Warriors deserve credit here for some of the modifications they made. Not only was the switching more frequent and focused, but individual defenders also guarded their own courtyard. Draymond Green took on Jaylen Brown and did a good job, allowing Klay Thompson – who had struggled with Browns in the bout before – for a bout with Horford. Gary Payton II also played after 25 minutes of not appearing in Game 1, and his defense on the ball helped disrupt Boston’s surrounding attack. With no ability to collapse defense and surge power like they did in Game 1, the Celtics weren’t able to create the easy shots from depth that propelled them to victory.
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“Yeah, I definitely changed it,” Horford said after the match about the three-point appearance. “Right now, all I can say is we just need to move the ball more, get more movement… I think we just have to play at the speed we like, make sure we drive, drive and kick the ball. When we play that way, then We’re really at our best.”
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The two big formations were also a problem for Boston, and they were in two games now. In Game 2, Horford and Rob Williams were minus 4 in 12 minutes. Daniel Theis and Grant Williams scored -10 in 12 minutes. Horford and Grant were minus 3 in eight minutes as a good measure. This may eventually be a slight pressure point for the Celtics, unless Odoka tightens his rotation significantly. The two big formations are vulnerable defensively, as they are less switched and allow Stephen Curry to attack the falling coverage. Offensively, it can be a bit of a crapshoot. In Game 2 for example, Horford was unable to utilize Thompson as the primary defender, and struggled around the edge.
While Rob Williams was a defensive threat, he was limited by his knee injury and not playing big minutes. And with Grant not playing effectively yet, the Celtics’ side may be a short striker to play small more frequently. One way might be to push White, Smart, Tatum, Brown and Horford minutes all into the 40s, but that puts a lot of pressure on Payton Pritchard as the only not-so-great backup. (And after the strong first match, Pritchard was relentlessly attacked in the second game.)
Of course, it would be foolish to think that Game 3 would play on the same terms as Game 2. Just like the way the series turned in two rest days, more changes will come. There will be more variance in shooting, fouling and player rotation as the Finals go on. But there are still moves on the board for Boston moving forward. Even if these directives are as simple as “Take care of the ball” and “Cut Theis minutes”, these are obvious ways the Celts can try to get back on track in Game 3. However, both teams are still figuring out their best combinations, so expect more turnovers while The chain is heading east.
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