The story of Game 2 for the Boston Celtics was the turnovers. Boston turned the ball over 19 times, gifting the Golden State Warriors 33 points in the process. However, the underlying issue was their stagnant offense.
Boston consistently failed to make the right reads, as they attempted to force the issue rather than letting the offense come to them. Despite his analytically pleasing scoring numbers, Tatum ended up settling for too many bad looks. In fact, most of his efficiency came from behind the three-point line, where he shot 6-of-9; inside the arc, he was just 2-for-10.
While Tatum’s efficiency in Game 1 left much to be desired, he was putting on a clinic as a playmaker. His passing was a primary reason for Boston’s offensive success, and while it may sound backwards, he may have been more impactful in Game 1 than in Game 2, despite the scoring margin.
Here’s a perfect example. This first clip is from Game 2. Tatum gets a mismatch on Nemanja Bjelica and schools him. The Boston forward is just too quick for Bjelica to keep up with. But once he gets downhill, his eyes don’t leave the rim. He ends up taking a contested shot, flailing his arms in search of a foul call. (Something Boston’s stars do far too much.)
What Tatum evidently didn’t notice (or acknowledge) is Derrick White all alone on the wing. Ime Udoka has urged the Celtics to play drive-and-kick basketball all season. Tatum drove, but he didn’t kick.
Now, look at this play from Game 1. It’s not exactly the same, but the concept is similar. Tatum gets a mismatch against Kevon Looney, forces Stephen Curry to help, and at the first sign of Curry sliding over, kicks it to Smart for a three.
Tatum kept his head on a swivel and the Celtics got an easy bucket because of it. In the first clip, he could even be argued that Tatum had an easier pass available to him for White to get an easier shot than the one Smart took. But instead, it was a contested layup. Little things become big things.
This clip is more of the same, but it brings up another key point. Boston continues to get Tatum going, but there’s no movement. White got open behind Tatum, but that would have been a near-impossible pass for him to make.
As mentioned, the real issue here is a complete lack of off-ball movement. Marcus Smart even throws his hands up in frustration as Tatum tried to force the issue. And that was another thing the Celtics did. As odd as it may sound, they settled for mismatches rather than exploiting the mismatch, drawing multiple defenders, and finding the open man.
Hunting mismatches is a great way to generate offense. But when that’s the entire gameplan, it tends to backfire. That’s exactly what happened to the Celtics on Sunday night. They seemingly attacked every mismatch that they got, forcing up a shot even if they could have gotten a better one by passing out.
All of the clips above show Tatum trying to attack a mismatch and get to his spot. Whether it be against Bjelica, Looney, or someone else on Golden State, he saw a mismatch and tried to attack. He got so laser-focused on the rim that he ended up hurting his team rather than helping.
Here are a couple more prime examples. In this clip, Tatum gets by Looney, but is met by Andrew Wiggins at the rim. He keeps the ball too low to make a read. Robert Williams was somewhat open under the rim, but by the time Wiggins slides over to help, Tatum is caught in no man’s land.
Lastly, this shot is a bit more acceptable, but it falls under the same category of settling. Tatum sees that Jordan Poole is on him, and the entire Celtics roster essentially just accepts that he’s going to take the shot. He ends up shooting a contested mid-range jumper.
Golden State did a great job of staying home and taking away Tatum’s passing options, but Boston needed to simultaneously adjust and create some off-ball movement. That didn’t happen.
While that proved to be the Achilles heel to Tatum’s Game 2, Jaylen Brown provided a whole new set of problems. After a red-hot start from the field that saw him shoot 4-for-6 in the first quarter, he went 1-for-11 the remainder of the game.
Some of his misses were just that: misses. But a concerning number of them were him trying to get himself going again. Similar to Tatum, Brown forced the issue, but instead of attacking mismatches, he was often just taking the first shot that was offered him.
Here’s one example. Sure, there are 10 seconds left on the shot clock, but that’s a lot more than it sounds. Brown decides to attack Draymond Green in the middle of the floor, is forced to pick up his dribble, and takes an awful mid-range shot.
Again, though, the Celtics don’t do much to help him. Everyone ends up floating around the three-point line waiting to see what Brown can do. Green is one of the greatest defenders in NBA history. The Warriors were never going to send help, so there was no “getting open” on the three-point arc. Brown put himself on an island and got stranded.
This clip more directly displays Brown desperately trying to find a rhythm. Brown finds the ball in the paint after Smart’s pass gets tipped and takes another contested mid-range shot.
All the while, Al Horford is standing on the three-point line. Looney is completely focused on Brown and had sunk off of Horford. But instead of keeping his head up, Brown forced up a contested jump shot against Wiggins, one of Golden State’s better ISO defenders.
Both Tatum and Brown failed to make the extra passes all night long, settling for contested looks and poorly attacked mismatches. But they weren’t the only issues within the Celtics’ offense on Sunday.
The Celtics let Horford fall into a similar trap as Tatum and Brown did. Horford only attempted four shots in Game 2, and two of them were post-ups. Once again, Boston settled for mismatches, allowing Horford to work in the paint with zero off-ball movement supporting him.
And even if Horford was fouled (or form tackled) in that second clip, the point stands that the Celtics gave him no support. Smart was open once Green sunk in a bit, but Green did a great job of playing both guys, and no one else on the Celtics moved (other than Williams, who was trying to get in position for a rebound).
White and Smart also struggled to help much. Neither shot quite as well from three as they did in Game 1, as Smart went 0-for-3 and White went 2-for-4 (which is respectable, but he just didn’t get as many looks in Game 2). But in addition to that, they too missed some passes that could have helped Boston’s offensive flow.
Here, Smart gets past his man on the drive, and Williams is wide-open in the paint for a lob. It’s not necessarily an easy pass to make, but it’s one we’ve seen Smart make before. Instead, he drives to the paint, getting stuffed in the process.
What could have been an easy lob for Time Lord ended up going out of bounds off Smart, and an injury to Williams. The big man would get up and keep on going, but Smart fell into his knees pretty hard after what should have been a sweet alley-oop.
White missed some easy reads as well. On this play, just as Smart did, White gets by his man on the perimeter, but instead of taking a floater (which he loves) or kicking it out to Grant Williams (who was open), White tries to force a pass into the paint to Daniel Theis.
Now, the upside of this play is that White tried to make a play, but the downside is that he made the wrong one. He could have had an easy floater or an easy pass to Williams, but he just made the wrong read.
Boston got caught up in trying to force the issue all night long, but once again, the Warriors’ defense deserves a ton of credit.
In The Finals opener, the Warriors were determined to slow down Tatum. They brought help, sagged off of shooters, and let Boston hurt them from three-point range. During his post-game interview, Green mocked the fact that Smart, White, and Horford shot so well from three, implying that they wouldn’t do it again. But instead, the Warriors simply took away some of those shots.
In Game 1, the Celtics generated 26 wide-open shots (23 three-pointers) and 33 open shots (15 threes). As noted, the Warriors were so locked in on Tatum, they allowed other shooters to hurt them In Game 2, those numbers were cut down dramatically. Boston only scrounged up 17 wide-open shots (13 three-pointers) and 24 open shots (18 three-pointers). Golden State flipped the script, and the Celtics fell into the trap.
They let Boston attack the mismatches, sending help at the last possible second, thus preventing Tatum and the rest of the Celtics from making good reads. Steve Kerr did a phenomenal job of adjusting, and Boston failed to match it.