When the Celtics have lost games this postseason, it has rarely been a case of the opponent outright outplaying them. For the most part, the C’s have been beating themselves with avoidable mistakes. That was the situation once again Monday night for Game 5 of the NBA Finals – a 104-94 win for the Golden State Warriors.
“Poor start overall. That’s hard to explain that, why that is,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “But we got back in. Turnovers, missed free throws, some of the things obviously, a little bit talking to the refs too much didn’t help us in the fourth.”
Among the many self-inflected struggles for the Celtics in that game, the turnovers stand out – as they have all postseason. The Celtics have the ball away 18 times, and the team’s three primary ballhandlers each had at least four (Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart had four each, Jaylen Brown had 5). Those 18 turnovers resulted in 22 points for Golden State, while the Celtics managed just nine points off of seven takeaways.
Turnovers have been a bellwether stat for the Celtics this postseason. When they limit themselves to 15 or fewer turnovers, they’re 14-3. But in games they’ve turned the ball over 16 or more times, they’re a winless 0-5 including Monday night. During the regular season, they averaged 13.6 turnovers a game which is ranked towards the middle of the NBA.
As for what caused the turnovers in this specific game, Udoka offered a couple of possibilities. “Playing in the crowd too much has caused a lot of these turnovers. Obviously, Jayson [Tatum], Marcus [Smart] having four, Jaylen [Brown] having five, our primary ball handlers that get caught in some tough spots at times,” he said. “When we’re at our best, it’s simple ball movement. I think the third quarter showed that.”
Udoka also cited the extensive minutes key players played in this game, and specifically mentioned Jayson Tatum playing more minutes (44) than the team originally planned on after back-to-back seven-game series. “Fatigue could’ve played a part in that, whether it’s physical or some of the decision making, turnovers there,” Udoka said.
Tatum downplayed the fatigue factor during his post game availability, but did admit the turnovers have been and still are a problem. “We got to be better,” he said. “We’re hard to beat when we don’t turn the ball over. Clearly, we’re easy to beat when we do turn the ball over.”
“Another game with too many turnovers,” Jaylen Brown added. “It cost us.”
The other thing that hurt the Celtics – as Ime Udoka mentioned – was their free throw shooting. They ended up getting to the line 31 times – more than twice as much as the Warriors – but shot just 21-of-31, which is good for 67.7 percent.
Just like they’ve done throughout the playoffs to get to this point, the Celtics will have to quickly figure out what went wrong and make the necessary corrections. The series shifts back to Boston Thursday night for Game 6. Coverage of that one can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network beginning with an 8:30 p.m. pregame show.