Jayson Tatum and the Celtics need to figure out how to score inside the arc if they hope to win Game 3 and regain control of the NBA Finals from the Warriors.
If that statement seems obvious – perhaps a half step above “If the Celtics hope to win the Finals, they must win four games” – be patient, because Games 1 and 2 weren’t particularly encouraging. The Warriors may not be as physical as the Heat and Bucks, but they were the second-best defense in the NBA during the regular season for a reason – a juggernaut led by Draymond Green, but staffed by an ever-changing defensive staff. and infinitely intelligent. .
On Monday, the Celtics were abysmal 9-for-34 (26.4%) from inside the arc through the first three quarters (the fourth quarter, of course, was extended) as the Warriors smothered every lane until at the edge. Tellingly, the Celtics shot 10 for 19 (52.6%) from 3-point range in the first half, but just 17 for 44 (38.6) percent from the floor overall.
Tatum’s shooting line was a microcosm of the Celtics’ struggles — he finished with 28 points on 19 shots and was 6-for-9 from deep, but only shot 2-for-10 from inside the arc.
So what the hell happened? Some things. Here’s what the Warriors did to slow him down.
Build a wall/shell
Here’s a screenshot of the second-half game that ended in a brutally difficult 3-pointer from the corner.
Andrew Wiggins can’t quite stay ahead of Tatum consistently – Tatum has a quick first step and plenty of size on Wiggins, and he can turn the corner if he has the time and space.
But the Warriors haven’t changed their strategy that much from the first game. When Tatum got the ball back, he saw a crowd constantly. The Warriors defenders recovered better, but every time Tatum gauged his defender 1-on-1, a sea of Warriors faces stared at him. That’s what he faced against Wiggins above, and as the shot clock ticked down he was forced into a relatively predictable play.
Imagine trying to go iso against that.
On this play, Tatum got the iso he wanted – a mid-position opportunity against Jordan Poole, who is a terrible defender – but once again he was dissuaded from driving by the defenders of the help who moved with him. The Celtics need to figure out how Tatum can comfortably attack games with Poole, as much of their offense relies on Tatum and Jaylen Brown abusing offsets, and Poole is as big an offset as exists on the Warriors roster (more on another shift in a minute).
A good dose of Gary Payton II and Andrew Wiggins
This one is pretty straightforward: Payton is a really good defender, and he’s made life difficult for Tatum and Brown at times. He’s not big enough to fully defend Tatum, but he can keep Tatum in front and make it harder to handle the ball, which makes shooting harder, which lowers the percentages of the Celtics’ best players. It’s a big boost for a Warriors side that saw Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and other generally solid defenders get cooked by Tatum (as a passer) and Brown (as a scorer) in the first. match.
Meanwhile, Wiggins has performed very well as an assist defender, staying on top of Tatum’s whereabouts after being knocked off the Celtics star. Here, Tatum beat Kevon Looney after Looney traded a screen from Robert Williams, but Wiggins never took his eyes off Tatum and was ready to fight on the rim (also note that the still conscious Draymond Green helped Williams at the place of the dunk to prevent the lob).
The Warriors, like the Celtics, are a well-oiled machine defensively.
Swipe hard and hope for the best
The Warriors stole ratings from the Bucks and Heat in Game 2, sweeping the Celtics’ balls and spamming the steal button hoping the officials wouldn’t call a close game. The Celtics (perhaps correctly) made it clear after the game that they felt the whistles were one-sided, but the Warriors made sure to take advantage of a friendly whistle and two stars who can lose the ball at times.
Tatum in particular was baited both for driving a crowd and chasing fouls, and neither strategy worked particularly well. His four turnovers could be attributed to one or the other – Steph Curry stripped him on the first, Kevon Looney managed to clear the ball near half the pitch on the second, Nemanja Bjelica held on * on a drive for third, and the drive against Draymond Green sparked the fourth.
The Celtics need Tatum to do a lot, and he may have tried to do too much in Game 2. Toeing that line – especially given how much the Celtics need him to be a playmaker – will be a crucial and complicated factor for Tatum in the game. 3.
*may have fouled it
Drop defensive stopper Nemanja Bjelica
And finally, the joker: slow-footed striker Nemanja Bjelica gave the Warriors surprisingly good minutes against Tatum, especially in the first half. The reason? For one thing, Bjelica can match Tatum in size. On the other hand, the Warriors helped a lot when Tatum beat Bjelica.
Again, note that Wiggins is in position to help when Tatum passes Bjelica from the dribble.
(This screenshot makes Pritchard look more open than he was. Poole was in position to come back and defend his man if Tatum made the pass.)
This was the problem the Celtics struggled with for much of Game 2 – the Warriors had entered Tatum, but they were also much better prepared to deal with the options that open up when the Celtics face an opponent determined to stop their superstar.
So how do the Celtics release Tatum? Ime Udoka noted after the game that turnovers – not for the first time in the playoffs! – shattered Celtics hopes, especially in the second half.
“A lot of times it’s just about not getting shot or being a bit hesitant instead of attacking the basket, often looking for fouls,” Udoka said. “That’s what got us into trouble. We had some of our first misses in the first half, and with their smaller lineups, we have to attack the basket much more aggressively.
That’s fair enough, and the Celtics can definitely do a better job just getting shot.
But releasing Tatum would do the Celtics a lot of good. He can beat teams from 3-point range, but he probably can’t beat the Warriors consistently enough to win three of the next five games without rumbling to the hoop.
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