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Boston had their chances and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Warriors

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The Celtics were right there with the champs in a potential NBA Finals preview

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Celtics started the game off with a pretty simple gameplan: go at DeMarcus Cousins early and often. They made Cousins defend pick and roll actions and made him defend in space. The key to this was having Al Horford either roll to hoop or pop out for jumpers. A good example was the below play. Horford gives it to Kyrie Irving and executes a loop cut. Cousins isn’t able to hedge on Irving’s drive and get back to challenge Horford’s jumper:

2. Boston had a lot of trouble guarding Kevin Durant. That’s not really a criticism, as the entire league has trouble guarding Durant. But he gave the Celtics fits early. He was able to get to his spots for his midrange jumper all night. He either dribbled into them, or worked out of the mid-post area. The one benefit was that Boston did make him work and it seemed to pay off, as Durant was just 3-for-9 from the field in the second half, and 1-of-4 in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Celtics couldn’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar and sent him to the line 11 times in the second half, where Durant hit 10 freebies.

3. The second quarter featured some real struggles keeping track of Stephen Curry. Curry executes what looks like a simple action, but is actually fairly complex, on a regular basis. He comes up the floor, passes off and then cuts to get an open three. What makes it special is that he’ll take those threes from anywhere on the floor and how he plays off his teammates to get them. It forces a defense to be hyper-aware and to have great communication on defense.

In the second quarter, Boston wasn’t either of those things. Curry got loose to shoot 5-of-8 from behind the arc in the quarter. A lot of blame for this got thrown Terry Rozier’s way, and he was a part of it, but it was the Celtics defense as a whole. If you aren’t going to switch out, Curry will burn you every time and he put on a show heading into halftime in this game.

4. It was another inconsistent night from the Boston bench. Jaylen Brown was solid, as he got to 10 points and contributed on defense, but the rest of the Celtics reserves were MIA. Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis combined to shoot just 2-of-11. Hayward made some impact with seven rebounds and a few nice defensive plays, but his 0-for-5 from the field really hurt Boston’s efforts. Part of the Celtics advantage against the very best teams is supposed to be their bench. When the backups struggle like this, that advantage simply doesn’t exist. And a big part of those struggles are related to Hayward. But the Celtics really have no choice but to let him play through it and hope he gets back to the player they signed in 2017.

5. Boston got behind and then had to fight their way back a couple of different times. In the third quarter, it was Jayson Tatum who led the way. He scored 14 of his 20 points in the third, on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor, including 3-for-4 from behind the arc. It was great to see the 20-year old Tatum rise to the moment and go head-to-head with the best the game has to offer.

6. With Horford playing most of the minutes against Cousins, this wasn’t really a night for Baynes. Baynes struggled in his minutes, as he finished a team-worst -11 for the night. Brad Stevens went to Theis briefly in the second half, but this was mostly Horford’s night as the lone big. And he delivered one of his better efforts of the year on both ends of the floor.

7. Boston’s defense was a step slow for a lot of the night. This play is a prime example. The Warriors run one of their favorite actions. It’s a fake DHO between Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, with the real stuff happening on the other side of the floor. Kevon Looney screens for Durant, and immediately slips to the paint as Durant attacks off the paint. It’s on Rozier or Hayward to get to Looney. Both are a step slow and it results in an easy dunk:

8. The Celtics stole some offense, on a night where they didn’t shoot it well at all, by getting all over the offensive glass. Boston picked up 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 23 second-chance points. Horford grabbed five offensive boards, while Marcus Morris added four of his own. That’s great effort to keep the team in the game, when the shots just weren’t falling.

9. Boston had their chances late in the game. There has been a lot of talk about this shot from Morris, when Boston was down by two with under 20 seconds to play. First, Morris has been outstanding as a shooter all season. There should be no hand-wringing about him taking this shot. Second, Stevens said he didn’t call a timeout when he saw Tatum had Curry in the post. Green scrambled over to help, which created the look for Morris off a nice pass from Tatum. It was a fine shot by a great choice to take it. Any criticism here is really unfair and unfounded.

10. That last shot was kind of the story of the night. The Celtics were really close against the best team in the NBA, but fell short. Sure, they had another chance when they missed a box out against Green, but that seemed more unlucky than anything else. Smart comes in and is in the perfect spot for the rebound, but he slips and Green gets the ball and it’s game over:

It’s far too late in the season for moral victories. And you don’t really have the leeway for moral victories when you’ve done things like lose to the Phoenix Suns in Boston. But the Celtics are close. During their five-game win streak they found some stuff that worked. The lineups and rotations have really stabilized. The bench is still prone to frustrating bouts of inconsistency, but when they are good, they are great. Irving and Horford looked terrific last night and have for a while. Tatum seems to have gotten back on track after some bumps over the last month or so.

While you aren’t awarded any sort of trophies for coming close to beating the Warriors, you can feel heartened by Golden State’s comments after the game. Steve Kerr and several players commented that the Celtics are their toughest matchup and that they have to be at their best to win. Boston seems to have turned a corner with some of their best basketball as of late. If this continues in the second half of the season, we may just see these two teams playing again in June.