SAN FRANCISCO — Of the 16 times the home team lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 14 times they bounced back and won Game 2.
However, the two times the home team lost Game 2, they did not bounce back to win the series.
Which is why, even though they seemed loose at practice on Saturday, the Warriors admitted they need to play with more desperation in Game 2 Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on ABC).
“We played about 40 great minutes, which will not get it done at this point in the season,” Klay Thompson said. “We are going to play with desperation tomorrow, and I think that’s when we are at our best.”
The Celtics are not the Mavericks — they are much better defensively, they are longer and more athletic, and Boston has a balanced attack where multiple players are a threat to score at all times. This is a very good team and Golden State got its wake-up call in Game 1.
Here are three things that will be critical in deciding Game 2.
1) Can the Warriors get out in transition?
It may seem counterintuitive, but you can blame the Warriors’ defense for a large part of their offensive struggles in the fourth quarter of Game 1, scoring just 16 points.
With Boston’s hot shooters setting the tone, seemingly every trip down the court Golden State was taking the ball out of the basket and then having to go against a set Celtics’ defense. No team is scoring consistently against this Boston defense when it gets set. The Warriors’ offense thrives when they get stops or force turnovers, then push the pace and get the opposing team scrambling and in chaos. There wasn’t enough of that.
The Warriors need to up the pace in Game 2 — they need to get more stops, then they need to hit their shots in transition. Golden State shot 4-of-9 on its fast break opportunities in Game 1 (using the NBA’s conservative selection of fast break shots). Cleaning the Glass said the Warriors had a 114.3 offensive rating in transition in Game 1, which for context would have been the worst in the league over the course of the regular season.
Tied to that, the Warriors need to finish better around Robert Williams at the rim — Golden State shot 13-of-29 (44.8%) in the paint in Game 1 (Draymond Green was 2-of-8). More transition buckets at the rim would help, but the Warriors also just need to shoot better closer to the basket. Williams’ athletic shot-blocking bothered them for stretches.
2) Jayson Tatum gets rolling
Despite his 3-of-17 shooting night in Game 1, Tatum thought he impacted the game positively with his 13 assists.
“I had more assists than points last game. So I feel like I made the right play more often than not,” Tatum said. “You know, it’s not much to overthink.”
That said, he knows he has to play better and pick up the scoring in Game 2 — and every game this postseason where Tatum has struggled, he’s bounced back with at least 30 the next time out.
He’s not worried about turning things around. He’s done it before.
“Once you’ve done something before, you know how to respond,” Tatum said. “I’ve had some bad shooting nights in the NBA. So it’s like, I’ve been here before. I know what to do next game. I think a lot of it is mental. You don’t let it creep into your mind. I can’t do nothing about what happened last game. I missed those shots and it is what it is. It’s all about how to prepare and get ready for the next one.”
3) Can the Warriors get Jordan Poole going?
But if the Warriors are going to bounce back in Game 2, they need more out of Poole.
My doubts about Poole this series began with his vulnerability as a defender, but that wasn’t his biggest issue in Game 1 — he was respectable on that end. The Warriors even went with a box-and-one defense for while with Poole on Tatum. That worked better than expected. But in the fourth, the Celtics targeted Poole some, and he was a team-worst -19 for the game.
The bigger issue was Poole struggled on offense, with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting and four turnovers. Poole is the Warriors’ second best shot creator right now (with Thompson not entirely himself again), and they need that on the court — which means he needs to defend well enough Kerr can leave him out there. Then Poole needs to attack the paint and make plays.
“I just tell Jordan to relax and not be too hard on yourself,” Klay Thompson said. “He reminds me of my younger self. You want to be great every night, but the nature of the beast, it’s not like that, unfortunately. There’s going to be lulls and there’s going to be highs, and just stay even-keeled and realize it’s the war of attrition at this point in the year.
“So as long as you stick to your process, great things are going to happen. He’s already proved how vital he is to our team.”
Warriors’ assistant coach Kenny Atkinson was more direct about Poole, speaking to Dustin Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area.
“He’s got to stay aggressive,” Atkinson said. “We’re not winning this thing without him. That’s just the truth of it, and he knows it.”
Poole is among the players Golden State needs to bring a little desperation energy on Sunday to even this series. If he doesn’t things get much harder for the Warriors.