Sylver: 5 key adjustments for the Celtics to make after Game 2 disaster
June 6th, 2022
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Head Coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Celtics stole Game 1 on the road. The Warriors punched back.
After the opening contest of the 2022 NBA Finals reminded us basketball can be beautiful, Game 2 was a time machine back to last month and the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, when 14 games of Giannis Antetokounmpo shoulder tackles and Kyle Lowry grifts drove Boston fans to the edge of insanity.
Despite scoring just nine points, Draymond Green was at the center of it all, which is remarkable considering teammate Steph Curry (29 points) had a vintage performance. Green’s constant flopping, woofing and attempts at various pro wrestling holds threw the Celtics off their game, while the three-time champs’ execution on both ends of the floor took care of the rest.
Just as Steve Kerr made adjustments to counter Boston’s impressive Game 1 showing, the ball is now in coach Ime Udoka’s court. The C’s are undefeated (6-0) coming off a loss in these playoffs, and with the scene shifting to TD Garden for Game 3, there’s no time like the present to make some changes.
Take care of the ball
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors battle for the ball during the first quarter in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
After taking the proverbial foot off the gas in Game 1, the Warriors were much more active defensively in Game 2. They once again stifled Boston forays to the basket, and Celtic attempts to move the ball came off like a game of Crossy Road (or maybe Frogger, for the veteran fan).
The Green committed seven turnovers in the opening quarter, with Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart teaming up for eight giveaways in the first half. Smart in particular seemed to be looking for passes that simply weren’t there. Golden State just swiped the ball and went the other way.
You can wallpaper over turnovers when you’re shooting the lights out, and Boston’s fourth quarter barrage in Game 1 wiped clean the memory of the things that put them in a double-digit hole.
But teams very rarely commit 18 turnovers and win.
Play through the physicality
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics grabs his shoulder during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
While Golden State fans may remember Game 2 for ridiculous shots by the likes of Curry and Jordan Poole, Celtics fans will undoubtedly be focused on the officiating.
After a rough Game 1, Tatum attacked the basket for his first score, possibly setting the tone for the superstar to go to the rack and get free throws. But after seemingly tweaking his shoulder, he mostly abandoned that approach. When he did go to the hoop, the whistles often stayed silent.
Eight of the game’s first 11 fouls were called on the Celtics. Ime Udoka was hit with a technical when Golden State entered the bonus with seven minutes remaining in the third, and through 36 minutes of play, only Tatum and Jaylen Brown had been to the line for Boston.
Meanwhile, Green got into his bag of tricks and the Warriors straight-up bullied the opposition.
The Celtics are capable of playing a more physical brand of basketball. They can’t let Golden State check that box.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives past Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Golden State Warriors during the first quarter in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
They can also get easier buckets. Boston shot an alarmingly bad percentage on two-pointers in Game 2. The action was telegraphed: plenty of dribbling preceding half-hearted layup attempts. Instead of going up with purpose, they seemed to be looking for a call.
But not only is a rim attack a high percentage option; it frees up the perimeter.
The same way the Green found open looks 25 feet from the basket in Game 1, they can get layups: with motion and slick passing.
On Sunday night, they had their feet in cement and the judgment of an inebriated college student.
Win the third quarter
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Seinfeld voice: What’s the deal with the Celtics and third quarters?
While the second half of the season and most of the playoffs have shown Boston can use the 12 minutes after halftime in a productive manner, this series has turned the clock back to an uncomfortable time.
The Green had more turnovers (five) than field goals (four) in the third period of Game 2, with zero points on the offensive glass and a comparable donut in transition. In the end, the home team blitzed the Celtics by 35-14 margin, completely erasing the memory of a first quarter where the Warriors looked shook and a first half where it appeared we had a battle on our hands.
With the TD Garden fans behind them Wednesday night, the Celtics have to find a way to make the third quarter their own.
More of THAT Jaylen
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 05: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics reacts during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center on June 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
After a memorable Game 1 conclusion where Brown asserted himself and changed the Celtics’ fortunes, the sixth-year wing came out swinging again in Game 2, responding to an opening Andrew Wiggins triple with a confident three of his own.
Then another. And then a drive at Wiggins for the and-1.
Then he just kind of faded into the background, making two of his next 14 shots.
Brown has a tendency to Homer Simpson his way into the bushes, and sometimes I’m not sure whether it’s by design (other guys need the ball), if he’s bothered by factors like foul trouble, or if it’s something else.
Whatever the reason, an aggressive Brown makes the Boston offense so much more lethal.
Jun 5, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors during game two of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Since his return after missing Game 4 of the Miami series, Boston’s point guard is shooting less than 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from downtown. While a tidy Game 1 performance (18 points, no turnovers) was enhanced by a couple of late threes, he’s often been the less preferable alternative to Derrick White or even Payton Pritchard.
On Sunday night, he paced the Celtics with five turnovers.
Not only can the Defensive Player of the Year keep his teammates from getting murdered on the pick and roll, his decision-making can help wake up an offense that went to sleep for three quarters.
I get it; he’s not 100 percent, and this isn’t a call for him to take 22 shots like he did in Game 7 against Miami, but the C’s could use “Good Marcus Smart” in Game 3.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.