Turnovers have been an on-again, off-again problem for the Celtics throughout the playoffs. Sunday night in Game 2, the issue reared its ugly head once again.
In Game 2, the Celtics turned the ball over 19 times – the second-most in a playoff game this season behind the 23 in Game 3 of the Miami series (a 109-103 Celtics loss). The Warriors scored 33 points off those turnovers, tying that Miami game for the most points allowed off turnovers in a game this postseason. Following the game, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka was quick to point out the pattern.
“I think we weren’t strong with the ball a lot, searching for fouls instead of going up and making plays, especially with their lack of rim protection,” Udoka said. “For us, that was a little disappointing, to give up 33 points off of 19 turnovers. That’s kind of been a constant theme in the Playoffs. When that happens, we’re in trouble.”
It seems like a really obvious observation – when the Celtics turn the ball over less, they win more. But for this Boston team right now, that seems to be a reality that’s exaggerated, and when those issues pop up on a given night the team struggles to work through them.
Earlier this postseason, Ime Udoka cited 12 turnovers as the “magic number” for the Celtics. There’s been a clear dividing line at that point – since Game 1 against Milwaukee, the Celtics are 7-2 when turning the ball over 12 or fewer times, 2-5 when giving it away 13-plus times. The only two losses in the 12-and-under category were Games 3 and 5 against Milwaukee which the team lost by two and three points respectively.
But in Game 2, the damage seemed to cut extra deep. “Had our opportunities,” Udoka said of the first half, before the game got out of hand. “Came out, jumped out up nine early. Then turnovers started happening. Let them back in the game. Then the offense wasn’t as crisp with the ball movement and passing. Like I said, 11 of our turnovers were live ball turnovers, nine of them out of steals. So got to be better in that category.”
“A lot of those turnovers were against drop-offs or getting stripped at the basket. We had opportunities to probably attack the basket and get some buckets, some easy buckets. Settled for some floaters,” Udoka continued. “I think when looking up in the first quarter we were shooting 50/40/90 across the board and still down due to a lot of those turnovers. A lot of times it’s just not getting shots up or being a little hesitant instead of attacking the basket, looking for fouls a lot of times. That’s what got us in trouble.”
As the Celtics attempt to move past this performance, Jayson Tatum says ball security will be in the spotlight as part of the preparations for Game 3. “We’ve do got to take better care of the ball. They got a lot of points off that, off our turnovers. That’s something we’ve got to be better for next game because we know throughout the Playoffs, the games that we have high turnovers, we kind of result to a loss,” he said. “That’s definitely a point of emphasis, taking care of the ball for next game.” Tatum himself had four turnovers, second to Jaylen Brown with five.
The good news for the Celtics is when they say they can fix the issue, the evidence backs that claim up. From Jan. 23 – the last date the Celtics were under .500 – to the end of the regular season, they averaged just 12.3 turnovers per game. That was top 10 in the league in that span.
They’ll have time to make the necessary adjustments, with Game 3 not until Wednesday as the series shifts back to Boston. That one has a 9:00 p.m. tip-off. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.