1. Before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston Celtics guard Derrick White said “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be us.”
That now applies to the 2022 NBA Finals too.
The Golden State Warriors again used a big third quarter to launch themselves to a big lead. This time around, there was no letup in the fourth quarter.
Simply put, this one was over early.
The third quarter was where the wheels came off, but the problems were evident earlier than that. We’ll cover all of it, as we attempt to pick up the pieces after a blowout.
2. We wrote before the game the series started that third quarters would be a bellwether. The Warriors are one of the NBA’s best third-quarter teams. They regularly come out from the break and either turn games around or turn them into runaways.
The Celtics trend towards the opposite.
In Game 1, Golden State outscored Boston 38-24 in the third to take a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter.
In Game 2, the Warriors outscored the Celtics 35-14 immediately after halftime to take a 23-pont lead into the fourth quarter.
As they morphed into the NBA’s best team in 2022, it seemed like Boston had figured out the third quarter thing. They were the ones coming out of the locker room and taking control of games. It even became a bit of a running joke that Ime Udoka must be delivering some incredible halftime speeches.
In the playoffs, that’s seemed to reverse a bit, for whatever reason.
Bouncing back is a great trait to have. Relying on it quite as much as the Celtics do is concerning, especially when it’s in-game.
3. Ultimately, Boston lost by 19 points, but that was after a final period that was mostly garbage time. The pre-garbage time margin was consistently around 22-25 points.
Helping the Warriors get there were a whopping 33 points off 19 Boston turnovers. Cut those numbers in half, and it’s a different ballgame.
We don’t need to go over the numbers from the entire playoff run to state the following: When the Celtics turn the ball over a lot, they lose. When they don’t, they win.
Is that overly simplifying things? Perhaps. But sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game.
4. This is as good a spot as any to address the officiating.
The Celtics didn’t lose because of the refereeing. You don’t get down by as many as 29 points because of the way the game is being called.
That said, there were definitely some issues. Jaylen Brown made reference to this “phantom call” in the first quarter:
The above clip is a bad angle, but several replays showed Brown didn’t make contact with Gary Payton II as he went up.
Now, many have pointed out that Payton missed both free throws, but that misses the important nuance. This was Brown’s second foul and it put him on the bench for the rest of the first quarter. He had 13 points at the time and having to leave the game took him completely out of rhythm.
The was also this nonsense:
No, not the call, but what came after. Brown angrily pushed Draymond Green’s feet/legs off his head. Green then gave Brown a little push, which Brown didn’t appreciate it. This was followed by Green not once, but twice, grabbing Brown’s shorts to pull himself up off the floor.
The whole altercation was reviewed and ultimately it was decided that there was nothing more than the foul that was called on the shot.
Here’s the issue: the officials clearly weighed that Green was already sitting on one technical foul. That was the deciding factor in calling a double technical on Brown and Green, which would have resulted in Green being ejected from the game.
No one wants the officials deciding games. We all want the players to be the ones who decide the games. But the NBA is wildly inconsistent in enforcing their own stated rules. Officiating “expert” Steve Javie admitted as much when the broadcast asked him for his thoughts on calling Green for a technical foul or not.
Multiple Boston players and Ime Udoka all referenced that Green upped his physicality in Game 2. But they also mentioned that the Celtics weren’t allowed by the referees to match that increased physicality.
Mostly, we all win when the refs let the players play. That’s what happened in Game 1 and it was a highly enjoyable experience for all who watched. In Game 2, the swings were inconsistent and impacted the flow of the game.
5. Back to the game itself…
The Warriors big adjustment was changing up their defensive coverages. After watching Jaylen Brown blow by Klay Thompson multiple times in Game 1 and then overpower Jordan Poole in the fourth quarter, Steve Kerr put Draymond Green on Brown. That put Thompson on Al Horford.
In theory, Brown should have still been able to beat Green off the bounce, while Horford should have been able to use his size against Thompson.
Instead, this is the kind of defense you got from Green against Brown:
Celtics fans are familiar with the concept of putting a player in jail, because Boston does it so often to opponents. That’s exactly what happened here.
Flipping the other way, post-injuries Thompson has done better defending bigs than he has quick wings. He’s got a strong base and doesn’t really get moved. Yes, there’s a lot of contact at the end of this play, but Thompson’s already done his job of stoning Horford in the post:
Those changes, as well as a simplified pick-and-roll coverage scheme, resulted in a far better defensive effort from the Warriors in Game 2.
6. In relation to the above, look at this shot chart:
Even when you factor in that the Warriors home shot-charters are a mess when it comes to shots at the rim, Boston was a terrible 12-of-30 on shots in the paint. To further things: the Celtics were just 15-of-43 on all two-pointers. This included a miserable 6-of-31 on self-created (generally off-the-dribble) two-point shots.
To put it simply, in addition to the ridiculous number of giveaways the Celtics had, they couldn’t make any of the “easy” shots either.
7. Another big difference was the Warriors cleaned up their three-point defense and their closeouts. Because they weren’t in rotation quite as much, Golden State did a much better job of defending the arc.
A major part of this was because the Celtics got away from their drive-and-kick game. Part of that was the changing of the matchups by the Warriors cited earlier. Another part was Gary Payton II playing in place of Andre Iguodala. Payton is on a completely different level as a defender than Iguodala is at this point in their careers.
But no matter the cause, the results are that Boston didn’t generate as many good looks.
In Game 1, the Celtics shot 19-of-38 on open-to-wide-open three-pointers, including an incredible 13-of-23 on wide-open threes.
In Game 2, that dropped to 12-of-31 on open-to-wide-open three-pointers. More importantly, it fell way off to just 6-of-13 on wide-open threes.
8. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both showed up on offense for the Celtics. Neither shot great, but they made plays as scorers. The problem for the Celtics was that their role players went missing. Even when Brown or Tatum were making plays for others, the results simply weren’t there. That resulted in both taking more self-created looks vs sticking with the ball and player movement-based offense.
Boston has to figure out a way to re-involve Al Horford and Marcus Smart in the offense for Game 3. Both spent a lot of the offensive possessions as spectators. And Smart has to curb the turnovers. It looked like Ime Udoka may have gone away from Smart initiating the offense because of repeated sloppiness with the ball.
9. A lot is being made of Jayson Tatum being a -36 in plus/minus for Game 2. This isn’t really a defense of Tatum, although he was Boston’s best player by a wide margin in the game. But plus/minus is a wonky stat, even if Tatum had his issues in the game.
Tatum being so far on the wrong side of plus/minus for the game is mostly due to him being the only player to play the entirety of the third quarter when the Warriors crushed the Celtics by a 35-14 advantage, while also playing the first part of the fourth quarter, when Golden State continued to cruise.
10. The hallmark of the 2022 Boston Celtics has been their resiliency. They put bad games behind them quicker than any team of recent vintage. They’ll need to do that once again.
The series now shifts to Boston and, despite the Game 2 loss, the Celtics still took homecourt advantage away from the Warriors.
Yes, Game 2 was bad. No one should be satisfied with that type of loss. But it’s also fair to point out that only twice in 75 years has a team won the first two games of an NBA Finals on the road.
In some ways, getting blown out is better than losing a close one. There are no excuses in a blowout. And Ime Udoka waved the white flag earlier enough that most of the regulars got increased rest. And you better believe Udoka is going to hold an epic film session where things are likely to get uncomfortable for many of the Celtics. Hopefully, that will result in an angry, but focused effort to start Game 3.
But, again, Boston got the split of the first two. No matter how ugly the second game was, that doesn’t change that it’s 1-1 heading across the country.
Now it’s up to the Celtics to bounce back once again and to take control of the series at home.
Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals is Wednesday, June 8 in Boston at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.