SAN FRANCISCO – In the press conference of Ime Udoka that lasted less than ten minutes after the Celtics’ defeat in Game 2 in the Final, he used the word “upset” 11 times when discussing his team’s attack. This will give you a decent hint of what Udoka felt was the reason behind Boston’s 107-88 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday. Carelessness with the ball was the glaring issue, among others, for the Celts, whose scoring attack went from a flamethrower in Game 1 to a frosty day with a breeze in Game 2.
Udoka certainly did not make the mistake of citing gifts as perhaps the biggest reason for Boston’s defeat. This is an issue that lasts longer in the playoffs. When the Celtics throw the ball, they do not win. And while the Warriors deserve credit for their defensive toughness on Tuesday, many of Boston’s 18 mistakes were unforced. Bad passes, poor decision-making, rush-to-cross, cross-border… all these are blunders Boston has the ability to clear no matter what Golden State does defensively. Gifts were not simply the result of an overly aggressive plan or constant hard traps or frequent blitz. And these mistakes are ultimately multilevel. Not only do the Warriors have a much better chance of scoring in the transition than the Celtics at half-time, but the easier scores for the Dubs mean Boston has to get the ball out from under the hoop more often, which with in turn makes life more difficult. the attack when he has to play against a set defense.
“It’s as simple as we have to take care of the ball,” said Jayson Tatum after the game. “We have done it and we are a very good team when we take care of the ball. “But we have these gaps where, as a result of an avalanche, we are stacked in turns and dig ourselves into a hole.”
Three-point shots were another area in which Boston took a significant step back in Game 2. After scoring 21-of-41 out of three to start the series, the Celtics tied with “only” 15-of-37 on Sunday. This is a 40.5% shooting rate which should be good enough to win a game. (In fact, the Warriors took and did exactly the same number three in Game 2.) And it would be difficult for Boston to repeat its shots from the first step, even if it looked exactly the same. It is worth noting, however, that the types of three that the Celtics got in Game 2 were very different from those that led to their game in Game 1.
In the first game of the series, Boston got 36 three-pointers catch-and-shoot, hitting 19 of them. This is one less than the total number of Celtic shots from deep in Game 2, and that number was backed up by some garbage dump. Udoka cited Warriors’ best change and – you guessed it – turnovers as two of the reasons for the three-point reduction. Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Derrick White combined to shoot 23 three-pointers in Game 1, but only seven in Game 2, including zero for Horford.
Udoka also said that the lack of color penetration from Boston also prevented the team from catch-and-shoot in the previous game. The Warriors deserve credit here for some of the adjustments they made. Not only were the changes more frequent and more concentrated, but also individual defenders guarding their yard. Draymond Green took over from Jalen Brown and did well, which allowed Clay Thompson – who played with Brown in the previous game – to match Horford. Gary Payton II also played 25 minutes after not appearing in Game 1, and his ball defense helped disrupt Boston’s perimeter attack. Unable to collapse the defense and force the scrabbles as they did in Game 1, the Celtics could not create easy shots from the depth that pushed them to victory.
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“Yes, he definitely changed that,” Horford said after the three-point game. “Right now, all I can say is that we just needed to move the ball more, to move more. I think we just have to play at our own pace, to make sure we drive the ball, drive and kick. . When we play like that, then we are really at our best.
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The Big Two were also an issue for Boston, and it’s been two games now. In Game 2, Horford and Rob Williams were minus-4 in 12 minutes. Daniel Theis and Grant Williams were minus-10 in 12 minutes. Both Horford and Grant were minus-3 in eight minutes for good measure. This could end up being a slight pressure point for the Celtics, unless Udoka tightens his rotation significantly. The two big lineups are vulnerable defensively, because they are less interchangeable and allow Stephen Curry to attack the drop covers. Offensive, it can be a little crazy. In Game 2, for example, Horford could not take advantage of Thompson as his main defender, and fought around the edge.
While Rob Williams was threatening defensively, he is also limited due to a knee injury and does not play long minutes. And with Grant not playing well so far, the Celtics could be a smaller forward to play more often in the small. One way might be to push the minutes of White, Smart, Tatum, Brown and Horford all in the 1940s, but that puts a lot of pressure on Payton Pritchard as basically the only, not big backup. (And after a solid Game 1, Pritchard came under more brutal attack in Game 2.)
Of course, it would be foolish to think that Game 3 would be played on exactly the same terms as Game 2. Just as it looked like the series was overturned in the two days off, more changes will come. There will be more shot, foul and upset variations as the Finals continue. However, there are still moves on the board for Boston to move forward. Even though these instructions are as simple as “Take of the ball” and “Cut Theis’s minutes”, these are obvious ways in which the Celts can try to get back on track in Game 3. However, both teams are still discovering their best combinations, expect more changes as the series heads east.
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