If Game 1 was all about the superstar efforts of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, Game 2 came down to the supporting cast.
The Celtics bench only mustered 17 points combined in the opening win of the first round with four starters scoring 20 or more points, but as playoff basketball goes, there are always adjustments and adjustments made to those adjustments. Boston looked ill-prepared to start Game 2 and after a slow start in the first quarter dug the Celtics into a 14-point hole, back-to-back three pointers from Grant Williams to close the opening frame kept Boston afloat.
“They’re obviously loading up on Jayson early. We were a little off. It felt a little rushed and erratic in the first half. You have to have more purpose offensively. We got to that in the second half,” Ime Udoka said after the Celtics coughed up nine turnovers in the first half. “Grant was obviously much needed when we were a little stagnant or little erratic early in the game. He kept us in it in the first half.”
“For me, it’s just about doing my job honestly. Those guys (Tatum and Brown) the whole year, we’ve asked them to do a lot for us and it’s only more in the playoffs. For us, it’s just about being who we are, trusting one another, and understanding that our work is a testament to what we do naturally will be good. When I’m not making my shots, they know that they’re going to still make that pass because eventually, I will,” Williams said.
After missing all of four of his threes on Sunday, he would finish Game 2 perfect from the field (4-for-4 from the field, 3-for-3 from behind the arc, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line), but it was Payton Pritchard’s clutch play in the fourth quarter that clinched the Celtics 2-0 hold on the series.
After playing just over eight minutes in the opener, Pritchard was a closer on Wednesday night. During a crucial stretch of the fourth quarter, Pritchard and Brown scored exclusively for Boston that fueled a 14-2 run to give the Celtics the lead for good.
Payton Pritchard moments after another electric finish ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/HePbz2hzU2— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 21, 2022
“They gotta be aggressive. They gotta make plays. If they’re going to treat them like they’re a non-basketball player and they’re not going to pay attention to them, they gotta attack,” Brown said after Pritchard scored ten second half points. “We give them the confidence to go be themselves. Payton came out — didn’t play much in Game 1, but had an impact in Game 1 — in Game 2 ready to go, made some big plays down the stretch in the 4th quarter. That was amazing. It just goes to show his confidence in himself. It just goes to show his poise and his readiness and we’re going to need that going forward.”
On the other end of the floor, the Celtics’ defense continues to be as impressive as it was in the regular season and more so, a team effort, particularly against two of the best isolation scorers in the game and of the decade.
After blowing up for 39 points in the opener, Irving had just ten points on 4-for-13 shooting and a single assist. Durant didn’t fare much better, netting 27 but on an inefficient 4-for-17 (18-for-20 at the free throw line) with six turnovers. The Nets’ Bruce Brown noted in his postgame presser that not only are the Celtics “packing it in” and showing Kevin Durant multiple defenders, but “the supporting cast gotta be better for him.”
With reports that both Ben Simmons and Robert Williams have started ramping up their activity, both teams could add key pieces to their supporting casts as the series shifts to Brooklyn. The defensive stalwarts would certainly change the chemistry and mix of the matchup, but for now, Boston remains steadfast in their belief that this series won’t be won by one player alone.
“Everybody contributed,” Tatum said. “This was a well rounded team win. We needed everybody. Everybody that played brought something to the table.”