What the Golden State Warriors did against the Boston Celtics in Game Two of the NBA Finals Sunday night was the definition of “response.” After dropping the first game of the series in front of their fans thanks to a poor performance in the fourth quarter, the Warriors were well aware they needed to recover quickly, and that’s exactly what they did.
The match was very close during the first 24 minutes, but in the third quarter, the Warriors kicked it a bit and got some serious breakup. Golden State beat Boston 35-14 in that quarter and they never looked back. They went to the coast for a 107-88 win, tying the series to a 1-1 draw in the process.
Stephen Curry led the way for Golden State with 29 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Jordan Paul added 17 points from the bench. As a team, the Warriors forced 18 turns in Boston and scored 33 points from those turnovers. This was a big factor in the outcome.
Jason Tatum sped the Celtics with 28 points and six rebounds, but his production wasn’t enough as only two other Celtics players scored in double digits. Now, the series is moving to Boston for games 3 and 4. Here are the highlights from Game 2.
Cruel mistress regression
When Boston shot 21 of 45 from behind the arc in Game 1, Draymond Green was less impressed. “They hit 21 3s, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Derek White combined for 15,” Green He said. “These guys are good at shooting, but they came together for….15 versus 23 of these guys? Eh. We’d be fine.”
Turns out he was right. Green spent a large portion of Game 1 holding back on Horford to focus on assisting defense, but in Game 2, he set a new tone on the first possession. Green played Horford so hard that he forced the ball to jump.
Boston still made a great start at 10 of 19 from behind the arc, but finished 3 of 14 in the second half. Horford and Smart combined to score 44 points in the first game. They scored only four points in the second game. In fact, even with waste time into account, Jason Tatum and Jaylene Brown are still able to total more than half of Boston’s points (45 out of 88). Players who shot Boston in victory in Game 1 have gone cold in Game 2.
There will be a middle ground here. Boston is better than 3 out of 14 from deep and worse than 10 out of 19 because every team in NBA history falls somewhere between those two extremes. But apart from White and sometimes Grant Williams, the Warriors were much more aggressive in pursuit of the Boston shooters. In that sense, Boston’s three-point count hardly tells the story here. It’s a fact that the Warriors caught the Celtics 12 fewer attempts (45 vs. 33) in Game Two. They couldn’t reach 90 points as a result.
We’re starting to find out who these teams really are
Tournaments tend to get smaller and smaller as the qualifying series progresses, and tonight was a great example of why. The Celtics would love to be able to play four big guys. Robert Williams III plays a painful role and Al Horford has just turned 36. Anything that Danielle Theiss can provide would be greatly appreciated. The Celtics scored 12 points in the seven competitive minutes they played in this match. The moment he decided to try to play a cover game against Stephen Curry, it was supposed to be the moment Ime Udoka decided to put him out for the rest of the series.
Steve Kerr’s discoveries were forced upon him. Andre Iguodala was disqualified before the second match due to a knee infection. This allowed him to give Gary Payton II, who was the DNP-CD in Game 1, a hugely useful 25 minutes. Not coincidentally, the Celtics made 18 turns in Game 2, five times more than they did in Game 1. Statistically, this was a fairly predictable development. The Warriors generated 3.3 more turnovers per 100 possessions during Payton’s regular season minutes than when they played without him. Coincidentally, this is the exact margin between Boston’s wins and losses in a playoff game. The Warriors scored 33 transformations in Game 2, an 18-point increase over the Celtics. They won the match by 19 points.
The problem with Payton’s extended minutes is that Boston has little interest in patrolling the ocean. Payton compensates for this in other ways. He’s a great breaker and nuclear athlete, but Golden State still needs to inject spacing in other ways, especially given Green’s limitations as a shooter, so try Nemanja Bjelica, whose defensive weaknesses seem to be greatly exaggerated. He held out against Luka Doncic last round and did well against Boston in Game Two.
Since it tends to go in the finals, after two matches against each other, the Warriors and Celtics now seem to have a pretty good idea of which players can survive in the series and which ones can’t. Boston seems to have landed in eighth place: Tatum, Brown, Smart, Horford, White, Pritchard and two Williams. Golden State has eight projects of its own: Carrie, Greene, Payton, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Looney, Otto Porter Jr. and Jordan Paul. Bjelica made a compelling case for slot number 9 tonight. Iguodala’s track record might give him the edge. But it seems the Golden State’s days of punishing Thess are over. Going forward, we will likely only see the best players these teams offer.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Thompson
Klay Thompson shot 4 of 19 from the field in Game 2. This is a tough night but not unusually bad. Thompson hit less than 40 percent from the field in 15 of 32 regular season games. He throws a stink up or two into every series in this post-season, and even when the baselines for the full game seem decent, he’ll often need to salvage a miserable first half with a better second half.
This does not mean that Thompson is some kind of train wreck. The altitudes were as high as ever. His 32-point blast to close out the Mavericks was a classic Clay. He still averages around 20 points per game in the post-season. But the Warriors desperately need a consistent second scorer. Jordan Bull has yet to get that far and struggled in the first game. Andrew Wiggins had a slow start to the finals. At the moment, Curry is generating almost everything about Attack for the Golden State. Thompson isn’t exactly a high-use ball handler, but the attack runs much smoother when the Warriors can at least count on him to make open shots and generate some of his own peeks inside the arc.
He wasn’t able to stand up to Boston’s stellar defense in the Finals, and so far in this series, he’s only fired 30.3 percent from the field. The Warriors may have defended well enough to fend off Boston tonight, but they won’t win another three matches with Thompson’s shot like that. Their hopes for the championship depend on the best version of him appearing more often than the worst, but on a night-to-night basis, the Warriors don’t seem to know which version they’ll get.
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