What the Golden State Warriors did against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night was the definition of “response.” After dropping the first game of the series in front of their home fans thanks to an abysmal fourth-quarter performance, the Warriors were well aware that they needed to bounce back quickly, and that’s exactly what they did.
The game was extremely close through the first 24 minutes, but in the third quarter, the Warriors kicked it up a notch and gained some serious separation. Golden State outscored Boston 35-14 in that quarter and they never looked back. They went on to coast to a 107-88 victory, and they tied the series up at 1-1 in the process.
Stephen Curry led the way for Golden State with 29 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Jordan Poole added 17 points off the bench. As a team, the Warriors forced 18 Boston turnovers and they scored 33 points off of those turnovers. That was a big factor in the outcome.
Jayson Tatum paced the Celtics with 28 points and six rebounds, but his production wasn’t enough as only two other Celtics players scored in double figures. Now, the series shifts to Boston for Games 3 and 4. Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 2.
Regression is a harsh mistress
When Boston shot 21-of-45 from behind the arc in Game 1, Draymond Green was less than impressed. “They hit 21 3s and Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Derrick White combined for 15,” Green said. “Those guys are good shooters, but they combined for what…. 15-for-23 from those guys? Eh. We’ll be fine.”
Turns out, he had a point. Green had spent much of Game 1 sagging off of Horford to focus on help-defense, but in Game 2, he set a new tone on the very first possession. Green played Horford so aggressively that he forced a jump-ball.
Boston still managed a hot 10-of-19 start from behind the arc, but finished 3-of-14 in the second half. Horford and Smart combined for 44 points in Game 1. They scored just four in Game 2. In fact, even with garbage time factored in, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown still managed to combine for more than half of Boston’s points (45 of 88) . The role players that shot Boston into a Game 1 victory went ice cold in Game 2.
There’s going to be a middle ground here. Boston is better than 3-of-14 from deep and worse than 10-of-19 because every team in NBA history falls somewhere between those two extremes. But aside from White and occasionally Grant Williams, the Warriors were much more aggressive in hounding Boston’s shooters. In that sense, the number of 3-pointers Boston made hardly tells the story here. It’s the fact that the Warriors held the Celtics to 12 fewer attempts (45 vs. 33) in Game 2. The Celtics didn’t have a counter. They couldn’t reach 90 points as a result.
We’re starting to figure out who these teams really are
Rotations tend to get smaller and smaller as a playoff series progresses, and tonight was a perfect example of why. The Celtics would love to be able to play four big men. Robert Williams III is playing hurt and Al Horford just turned 36. Anything Daniel Theis could give them would be greatly appreciated. The Celtics managed to get outscored by 12 points in the seven competitive minutes he played in this game. The moment he decided to try to play drop-coverage against Stephen Curry should have been the moment Ime Udoka decided to banish him for the rest of the series.
Steve Kerr’s revelations were forced upon him. Andre Iguodala was ruled out before Game 2 due to knee inflammation. That allowed him to give Gary Payton II, who was a DNP-CD in Game 1, 25 largely meaningful minutes. Not coincidentally, the Celtics committed 18 turnovers in Game 2, five 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, that is the exact margin between Boston’s playoff wins and losses. The Warriors scored 33 points off of turnovers in Game 2, 18 more than the Celtics. They win the game by 19 points.
The problem with extended Payton minutes is that Boston has little interest in guarding him on the perimeter. Payton makes up for that in other ways. He’s a brilliant cutter and nuclear athlete, but Golden State still needed to inject spacing in other ways, especially considering Green’s limitations as a shooter, so they tried Nemanja Bjelica, whose defensive weaknesses seem to have been greatly overstated. He held his own against Luka Doncic last round and he did just fine against Boston in Game 2.
As it tends to go in the Finals, after two games against one another, the Warriors and Celtics seem to now have a good idea of which players can survive in this series and which ones can’t. Boston seems to have landed on eight: Tatum, Brown, Smart, Horford, White, Pritchard and the two Williamses. Golden State has eight of its own: Curry, Green, Payton, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr. and Jordan Poole. Bjelica made a compelling argument for slot No. 9 tonight. Iguodala’s track record might give him the edge. But the days of Golden State punishing Theis appear to be over. From this point forward, we’re likely to see only the best players these teams have to offer.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Thompson
Klay Thompson shot 4-of-19 from the field in Game 2. That’s a tough night but hardly an unusually bad one. Thompson shot below 40 percent from the field in 15 of his 32 regular-season games. He’s throwing up a stinker or two per series this postseason, and even when full-game stat lines look decent, he’ll often need to salvage a miserable first half with a better second one.
This isn’t to say that Thompson is some sort of train wreck. The highs have been just as high as ever. His 32-point outburst from him to close out the Mavericks was vintage Klay. He’s still averaging nearly 20 points per game in the postseason. But the Warriors are desperate for a second consistent scorer. Jordan Poole isn’t quite there yet and struggled in Game 1. Andrew Wiggins has had a slow start to the Finals. Right now, Curry is generating almost everything on offense for Golden State. Thompson isn’t exactly a high-usage ball-handler, but the offense runs much more smoothly when the Warriors can at least rely on him to make open shots and generate some of his own looks inside the arc.
He hasn’t been able to against Boston’s stellar defense in the Finals, and thus far in the series, he’s shooting just 30.3 percent from the field. The Warriors might have defended well enough to hold off Boston tonight, but they won’t win three more games with Thompson shooting like this. Their championship hopes rely on the best version of him showing up more often than the worst, but on a night-to-night basis, the Warriors don’t seem to know which one they’re going to get.