SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors not only needed a win to tie the NBA Finals, but desperately needed something resounding to send a message to the Boston Celtics “we don’t care, we carry on.” coming”.
They had to show they could penetrate the Celtics’ psyche on and off the floor, that pressure could be applied and sustained for long stretches until the Celtics cracked.
Whether emotionally, physically or practically – because if they didn’t they would face the prospect of going down 3-1 before seeing their own ground again.
The outcome of Game 2 was predictable, a 107-88 victory at Chase Center, but the how was impressive and telling.
The Celtics didn’t show they could handle prosperity, going 2-5 into Sunday’s games after wins following the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round sweep. The Warriors went undefeated after playoff losses, often responding with bluster.
The Warriors have spoken repeatedly about playing hard and having the physical Celtics deal with the issues under those conditions, as opposed to the quiet walk they had in the series opener. Boston has more ways to win this series, with its size up front and the shooting of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown enough to bring down top teams in a seven-game contest.
But the Warriors have shown that the best path may lie in their ability to tap into the Celtics’ vulnerabilities, dance to their last nerves and return them to their worst possible impulses.
The 18 turnovers were horrendous, dizzying and undid some of the gains the Celtics needed to make in a series that favored them in many technical ways. But it was intentional on the other side.
It’s easier to absorb Tatum’s 28 points and Brown’s 17 when the Celtics are shooting 37.5% and Al Horford is gone after an early broadcast on Thursday night.
“We knew we had to come in with better focus and a better sense of aggression, and I thought that started early on,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think turnovers are often a byproduct of physicality and intensity. Draymond [Green] had a lot to do with it, just like Gary [Payton II]just like Wiggs [Andrew Wiggins].”
The 41-12 run that turned a tie into a 29-point gap in the fourth quarter wasn’t necessarily inevitable, but Green and those suddenly nasty Warriors were on the right tide early on in the game, forcing turnovers and being able to back Tatum hits everything deep.
Green was tipped over Brown and started snacking, of course earning a technical foul for his troubles – the cost of doing business, he would probably say.
“It wasn’t just me on Jaylen Brown, it was on every level,” Green said. “If I just take my strength and nobody else does, it doesn’t work.
“That’s my job. Steph Curry sets the tone on the attacking side of the ball, it’s my job to set the tone on the defensive side of the ball. And I wanted to do that from the start of the game.”
Sooner or later, the Celtics were going to implode, and it was Curry who put the screws in the third quarter. Curry’s greatness is required in a different way than in past championships, because as he noted, this team’s construction is unlike any other that won the gold trophy in the end.
But he needs to be more specific – due to his age and other scoring options that this team doesn’t consistently have.
And when he saw that little bit of light peering down the Celtics sideline, he jumped. Fourteen of his game-high 29 points came in the third – attacking the relentless Celtics when they took a breath to pull themselves together.
Unlike Game 1, starting with fire, Curry read and let the game come to him. The space was there for Klay Thompson and Wiggins to assert themselves while Curry waited for his chance to produce the greatness that will be required every night.
“I absolutely have to be aggressive throughout the game, create, get attention, get shots and keep applying pressure,” Curry said. ” It went well. I don’t know what it will look like down the road, rest of the series.
Jordan Poole has more subtle pressure than anyone, considering how explosive he can be and how much stress a second-shot creator can put on the Celtics. He was arguably shaky until the final minute of the third when he became Boston’s worst nightmare — back-to-back triples, the last a buzzer-beater one step inside half court.
Poole hasn’t had back-to-back bad games in this playoff, so it seems like he’s taken a game to acclimate to the new opponent, new expectations and his own importance in this series.
Getting used to the intensity, the desperation of the moment and the style of play of the Celtics took a day – the Dallas Mavericks, they are not.
Marcus Smart and Brown were a bit on the chippy side, an expected, welcome development too.
“It just comes with the territory. It’s a competitive advantage,” Poole told Yahoo Sports after scoring 17 goals in 22 minutes. “At this point anything we can do to win. Whether it’s getting inside someone’s head, hitting them early, taking the ball out of their hands, not letting them shoot after a whistle. All the little things matter, this is the highest stage. Whatever competitive advantage you can get, you have to take it.
Gary Payton II kept pushing on his return from an elbow injury, bouncing back like a toddler experiencing Pixy Stix for the first time. He perched in Tatum’s personal space, and Wiggins continued to be that annoying gnat who didn’t want to go away, only leaving Tatum to do other helping duties.
Payton adds an element of annoyance matched only by Green, and subtly aided by Poole. Payton was left open for a corner three and connected, saying afterwards he was running on adrenaline, unable to feel pain as his elbow was wrapped and heavily iced after the game.
“Last week I knew I was very close,” said Payton, who scored seven points and a plus-15 differential in 25 minutes. “So it was just anticipation and just anxious, ready to go out.”
The Warriors were as loose as a team could be in the days leading up to Game 2, fully aware of how they blew up Game 1 and not pissed off by the talent coming in from the East.
They’re not the Vintage Warriors, but they know each other and their dynamic as well as any of their other title teams. They know their fatal flaws, but more importantly, they also know yours.