Both the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors head into Game 3 of The NBA Finals with a victory under their belts. Playoff basketball is all about adjustments, and the coach that gets it right usually sees his team gain a slight advantage in the series.
In Game 2, it was Steve Kerr who made the necessary tweaks, and the Warriors outplayed the Celtics as a result. Golden State was aggressive, well-disciplined, and knew who they were as a team, limiting Boston’s ability to penetrate due to their lack of rim protection.
Now, it’s Ime Udoka’s turn to adjust his schemes, as he bids to ensure the Celtics regain control heading into Game 4 on Friday. Of course, sweeping changes are never a good idea, as they can confuse a team, and lead to disjointed performances. As such, here are three slight adjustments the Celtics could make, that could unlock a sturdy Warriors team.
By putting Draymond Green as the primary defender on Jaylen Brown, having their point-of-attack defenders pinch on penetration, and adjusting their pick-up points towards the logo, the Warriors did a great job of limiting Boston’s ability to space the floor.
Jayson Tatum, Brown, Derrick White, and Robert Williams are all at their best when attacking the rim, and given the lack of resistance the Warriors can offer within four feet of the cup, it makes sense the Celtics look to increase their rim pressure in front of their home crowd.
“This is a team that’s undersized. We talked about it going into the series, that they really pack the paint, like several other teams we’ve seen, but doing it a different way. Without rim protection, more rotations from their players. Green did a good job of bluffing, keeping our guys off balance a little bit there...You make the right amount of threes, you kind of get them out of that. But it’s a mix of that. With the lack of rim protection, we got guys that should be finishing a little bit better than we have. We also had several turnovers on our dump-off passes there. They were clogging the paint and missed some kick-outs. It’s a balance of both,” Ime Udoka said during a June 7 press conference.
There are multiple ways to improve a team’s spacing, but for the Celtics, taking a leaf out of the Miami Heat’s playbook makes sense, specifically in running more corner actions and adding a greater emphasis on empty-side pick-and-rolls. In fairness, we have seen Boston utilize both of these offensive systems throughout the post-season, but they’ve been something of an afterthought in the first two games against the Warriors.
One of the subtle-but-smart things about giving Draymond Green the Jaylen Brown assignment in Game 2 -- it puts even more pressure on Boston to space the floor correctly.— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) June 6, 2022
They can't afford to have any slip-ups, or it'll get ugly in the half-court.
️ SOUND ON pic.twitter.com/hjKQITUYsr
Define the defense
So far in this series, we’ve seen the Celtics employ a deep drop, a shallow drop, and a switching system as they bid to limit Stephen Curry’s impact when operating in the pick-and-roll. While Boston has found some level of success in shutting Curry down for stretches, the fact that the Warriors leaned into their pick-and-roll offense during the third quarter of Game 2 speaks a thousand words.
Thus far, the Celtics' best form of defense has come from operating in a shallow drop with the big-man defender playing up-to-touch on the screener. That type of defense has ensured Curry is hitting a big body when coming off the screen, while also having rear-view pressure. Of course, re-screening negates that issue, but, a deep drop is certainly not the way to go against the greatest shooter of all time.
As such, Udoka and his coaching staff have their hands full in figuring out ways to limit Curry’s shooting opportunities without giving up open looks to any of the Warriors' other snipers like Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole.
Still, Boston has been one of, if not the, best defensive team(s) in the league this season, so we should have every faith that they can figure things out, especially now that they have a two-game sample size to learn from.
Taking care of the ball
This one is obvious, but unfortunately, it has to make the list. Boston cannot keep giving the rock away so easily. Yes, a large portion of their turnovers in Game 2 were courtesy of the Warriors' defensive adjustments and intensity, but this is the biggest basketball stage on Earth, teams are supposed to improve and fight.
Spacing will play a large role in how the Celtics limit their turnovers, but that alone is not enough. Boston can’t allow themselves to get sped up, or to get run off their line before they’re ready to make a move, composure is paramount, especially against an all-time great team. Furthermore, ensuring the ball is in the hands of your best playmakers will go a long way to creating crisper ball movement.
Sure, Jaylen Brown is capable of penetrating and making a pass, but his dribble is suspect when in a crowd, just like Tatum’s is problematic when operating at speed. Putting your best players in a position to succeed, with an ample amount of spacing around them, will go a long way to ensuring passes are made at the right time, and to the right person.
Game 3 might not be a do-or-die contest, but it’s always better to be fighting off the front foot, rather than looking to bob-and-weave out of the corner when the pressure is mounting. And of course, after losing 4 of 9 home games during the post-season, it would be nice to give the TD Garden crowd something to cheer for, and to send them home happy. I mean, have you seen the price of those tickets?
Game 3 is due to take place on Wednesday, June 8, at 9 pm ET.