The avalanche that often is the Golden State Warriors offense came crashing down on the Celtics in Game 2.
However, Boston helped get the snowball rolling down the mountain with their turnovers. That’s one thing the Celtics know they have to change. That and to figure out their third quarter woes. Fast.
The Celtics and Warriors head into Game 3 Wednesday night — 9 p.m. on ABC — tied 1-1 in a series that has been entertaining even though it has yet to see a crunch time ending.
Here are three things the Celtics need to do to bounce back against the Warriors in Game 3.
1) Stop turning the ball over
Turning the ball over is death against the Warriors.
The Celtics (and everyone else) knew that coming into the Finals, but Game 1 showed the reverse as well: the positive impact of taking care of the ball. The Golden State offense struggled in the fourth quarter of Game 1 because Boston’s shooters were hot, meaning the Warriors were taking the ball out of the basket and going against a set defense every time down. Slow the game down to a grind and the Celtics have the advantage.
“The majority [of Celtics’ turnovers] is over-penetrating, playing in the crowd as I talk about quite often. Just not keeping it simple,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “You look at Game 1 where we had 33 assists on 43 baskets, crisp and sharp with our ball movements, not in the crowd. Led to a lot of wide-open 3s against a team that packs the paint.
“To have 19 [turnovers] and 11 in the first half last game, 15 of those 19 were steals. That’s directly playing in the crowd. Unforced at times, but also over-penetrating.”
That over-penetration is into the teeth of an outstanding Warriors defense, one with a number of defenders good at stripping the ball.
Limiting turnovers has to start with Jayson Tatum. Udoka said after Game 2 that Tatum was hunting for fouls rather than going in and scoring over defenders, or finding the right player on a kick-out pass. Tatum agreed.
“I think rim reads, right, getting too deep in the paint, not seeing the kick-outs, trying to kind of force the drop-offs, things like that,” Tatum said Tuesday about what led to his turnovers. “Usually there’s always somebody open.”
If the Celtics are careless with the ball on Wednesday night, being at home will not spare them the same fate as Game 2.
2) How do you solve a problem like Stephen Curry?
Stephen Curry has been the best player in the NBA Finals so far, and it’s not particularly close.
He’s averaging 31.5 points a game, shooting 46.2% from 3, and his gravity is warping the Celtics’ No. 1 defense. In Game 2 the Warriors switched up their attack a little and had Curry going at Boston big men in more traditional pick-and-roll switches, and that worked.
“He’s a great player. I think we all can agree on that, right? The dude is phenomenal and outstanding at what he does,” Marcus Smart said. “It doesn’t take one guy [to defend him]. It takes a full team effort. But when you’re on him and the main defender, you have to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared for what’s to come.
“I think for me and this team, that’s what we do — first effort, second effort, third effort, fourth effort. Those multiple efforts is what we do, and we’ve just got to continue to do them.”
The Celtics entered this series hoping they could be the exception to the rules on Curry. Most teams blitz Curry and double him the second he comes off a pick, forcing him to give up the ball (but creating a 4-on-3 attack for the Warriors). Because of the depth of quality defenders on the Celtics, they hoped they could just do more pure switching, leaving one player on an island with Curry and not having to double off others. That hasn’t worked.
Where does Ime Udoka go from here? Start to double Curry and bet on the length, athleticism and IQ of their remaining defenders to hold the Warriors in check? That works a lot better when Robert Williams is on the floor, but his knee limits him.
The one thing the Celtics bigs must do — MUST! — is meet Curry up at the level of the ball on the pick. Especially in Game 1 but in stretches of Game 2, the Celtics bigs were back like they were still playing Jimmy Butler, and it lets Curry walk right into an open 3. That can’t happen, it’s a layup for him. Force Curry to drive and trust your help.
Will any Celtics player rise up to near Curry’s level of play this series?
3) At home, the Boston role players have to step up
In Game 1, the Celtics’ role players were the story — Al Horford, Derrick White and Marcus Smart combined for 65 points and they shot 15-of-23 from 3. In Game 2, the trio was 6-of-23 shooting overall and had a limited impact.
Role players tend to be more comfortable and play better at home — the Celtics need them to be to get back ahead in this series. As long as Boston isn’t turning the ball over (see item No. 1), they need their role players to knock down shots on one end and continue to defend well on the other.
Beyond scorers, it’s a big game from Robert Williams that matters most — Boston’s defense is dramatically better with him on the court this Finals. Coming off meniscus surgery, Williams has a bone bruise in his knee he is trying to play through, but it limits him. The more he can play — and look close to himself, he faded in the third quarter of Game 2 — the better the Celtics look. Go to Horford at center — or heavy Daniel Theis minutes — and the drop-off is noticeable.
The Celtics need all their players to bounce back. Being at home will help, but it’s going to take a smarter effort as well — no team punishes mistakes like the Warriors.