August 16, 2022

The Game 2 story for the Boston Celtics was the turnovers. Boston turned the ball over 19 times, giving the Golden State Warriors 33 points. However, the underlying problem was their stagnant offense.

Boston consistently failed to get the reads right, as they tried to force the issue rather than let the offense come to them. Despite his analytically pleasing results, Tatum ended up settling for too many bad looks. In fact, most of his effectiveness came from behind the three-point line, where he shot 6 of 9; inside the arc it was only 2 for 10.

While Tatum’s effectiveness in Game 1 left much to be desired, he was running a clinic as a point guard. His passing was a major reason for Boston’s offensive success, and while it may seem like upside down, he may have had more impact in Game 1 than in Game 2, despite the scoring margin.

Here is a perfect example. This first clip is from Game 2. Tatum gets a shift on Nemanja Bjelica and schools him. The Boston striker is just too quick for Bjelica to keep up with. But once he gets down, his eyes don’t leave the edge. He ends up taking a contested shot, waving his arms in search of a foul call. (Something Boston stars do far too much.)

What Tatum obviously didn’t notice (or acknowledge) was Derrick White all alone on the wing. Ime Udoka urged the Celtics to play drive-and-kick basketball all season. Tatum drove, but he didn’t kick.

Now look at this game from Game 1. It’s not exactly the same, but the concept is similar. Tatum gets a lag against Kevon Looney, forces Stephen Curry to help, and at the first sign of Curry slipping, gives it to Smart for a three.

Tatum kept the lead on a pivot and the Celtics got an easy bucket because of it. In the first clip, it 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 lay-up. Little things become big things.

This clip is more or less the same, but it brings up another key point. Boston keeps pushing Tatum forward, but there’s no movement. White opened up behind Tatum, but that would have been an almost impossible pass for him to make.

As mentioned, the real problem here is a complete lack of off-ball movement. Marcus Smart even threw up his hands in frustration as Tatum tried to force the issue. And that was another thing the Celtics did. Strange as it may seem, they settled for lags rather than exploiting the lag, drawing in multiple defenders and finding the open man.

Lag hunting is a great way to generate offense. But when that’s the whole game plan, it tends to backfire. That’s exactly what happened to the Celtics on Sunday night. They seemingly attacked every stagger they got, forcing a shot even though they could have gotten a better one by passing out.

All of the clips above show Tatum trying to attack a lag and get in his place. Whether it was against Bjelica, Looney or anyone else on Golden State, he saw a shift and tried to attack. He focused so much on the rim that he ended up hurting his team rather than helping them.

Here are some other examples of choices. In this clip, Tatum passes by Looney, but is met by Andrew Wiggins at the edge. He keeps the ball too low to make a read. Robert Williams was somewhat open under the rim, but as Wiggins slips in to help, Tatum is caught in no man’s land.

Finally, this shot is a little more palatable, but it falls into the same category of settling. Tatum sees that Jordan Poole is on to him, and the entire Celtics roster basically agrees that he’s going to take the shot. He ends up shooting a contested mid-range jumper.

Golden State did a great job staying at home and taking away Tatum’s passing options, but Boston had to simultaneously adjust and create off-the-ball movement. This does not happen.

While that turned out to be the Achilles heel of Tatum’s Game 2, Jaylen Brown provided a whole new set of problems. After a blistering start to the field that saw him shoot 4 for 6 in the first quarter, he went 1 for 11 the rest of the game.

Some of his failures were just that: failures. But a disturbing number of them were trying to get back on track. Similar to Tatum, Brown forced the issue, but instead of attacking lags, he often took the first shot offered to him.

Here is an example. Sure, there are 10 seconds left on the shot clock, but it’s a lot longer than it looks. Brown decides to attack Draymond Green in the middle of the field, is forced to resume his dribble and takes a terrible shot from mid-range.

Again, though, the Celtics aren’t doing 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 defensemen in NBA history. The Warriors were never going to send help, so there was no “opening up” on the three-point arc. Brown got on an island and was stranded.

This clip more directly shows Brown desperately trying to find a rhythm. Brown finds the ball in the paint after Smart’s pass is knocked down and takes another contested shot from mid-range.

All the while, Al Horford is standing on the three-point line. Looney is completely focused on Brown and has sunk out of Horford. But instead of holding his head high, Brown forced a contested jump against Wiggins, one of Golden State’s best ISO defenders.

Tatum and Brown failed to make the extra passes all night, settling for contested looks and misattacked shifts. But those weren’t the only problems in the Celtics’ offense on Sunday.

The Celtics let Horford fall into a trap similar to that of Tatum and Brown. Horford only attempted four shots in Game 2, and two of them were post-ups. Once again, Boston settled for offsets, allowing Horford to work in the paint with zero off-ball movement to back him up.

And even though Horford was fouled (or tackled form) in that second clip, the fact is the Celtics gave him no support. Smart was open once Green sank a bit, but Green did a great job playing both guys, and nobody else on the Celtics budged (aside from Williams, who was trying to get into position for rebound).

White and Smart also struggled to help much. Neither shot as well on three as in Game 1, as Smart went 0 for 3 and White went 2 for 4 (which is respectable, but he just didn’t had as many looks in Game 2). But on top of that, they also missed a few passes that could have helped Boston’s offensive flow.

Here, Smart overtakes 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, it leads to painting, stuffing itself in the process.

What could have been an easy lob for Time Lord ended up going out of bounds for Smart and injuring Williams. The tall man got up and continued, but Smart fell to his knees quite hard after what should have been a gentle alley.

White also missed a few easy reads. On this play, just like Smart did, White passes his man on the perimeter, but instead of taking a floater (which he loves) or giving it to Grant Williams (who was open), White tries to force a pass in the painting 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 got the wrong read.

Boston got caught up trying to force the issue all night, but again, the Warriors defense deserves a ton of credit.

Going into the Finals opener, the Warriors were determined to slow Tatum down. They came in for help, slumped in front of the shooters, and let Boston hurt them three-pointers. During his post-match interview, Green mocked that Smart, White and Horford had shot three so well, implying they wouldn’t do it again. But instead, the Warriors just took some of those shots away.

In Game 1, the Celtics generated 26 wide-opening shots (23 three-pointers) and 33 open shots (15 three-pointers). As noted, the Warriors were so stuck on Tatum that they allowed other shooters to hurt them in Game 2, those numbers were reduced significantly. Boston only had 17 wide-open shots (13 three-pointers) and 24 wide-open shots (18 three-pointers). Golden State flipped the script and the Celtics fell into the trap.

They let Boston attack the lags, sending in help at the last possible second, preventing Tatum and the rest of the Celtics from making good reads. Steve Kerr did a phenomenal job of adjusting, and Boston couldn’t match it.