September 29, 2022

What the Golden State Warriors did against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night was the definition of “answer.” After dropping Game 1 of the series in front of their home fans with an abysmal fourth quarter performance, the Warriors knew they needed to bounce back quickly, and they did just that.

The game was extremely close for the first 24 minutes, but in the third quarter the Warriors took it up a notch and got a serious split. Golden State beat Boston 35-14 in that quarter and they never looked back. They went on to claim a 107-88 victory, and they evened the series 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 turnovers in Boston and they scored 33 points on those turnovers. This was a big factor in the result.

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 moves 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 unimpressed. “They hit 21 3s and Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Derrick White combined for 15,” Green said. “These guys are good shooters, but they combined for what… 15 for 23 of these guys? Eh. It’ll be fine.”

Turns out he was right. Green had spent much of Game 1 sagging on Horford to focus on assisting defense, but in Game 2 he set a new tone with the very first possession. Green played Horford so aggressively that he forced a jump ball.

Boston still got off to a strong 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 only scored four in Game 2. In fact, even with lost 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 who propelled Boston to a victory in Game 1 turned icy in Game 2.

There is 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 is somewhere in between those two extremes. But aside from White and the occasional Grant Williams, the Warriors were much more aggressive in hunting down Boston shooters. In that sense, how many 3-pointers Boston has made barely tells the story here. It’s the fact that the Warriors held the Celtics to 12 fewer attempts (45 to 33) in Game 2. The Celtics had no counter. So they couldn’t reach 90 points.

We’re starting to understand who these teams really are

Rotations tend to get smaller and smaller as a playoff series progresses, and tonight was a perfect example of that. The Celtics would love to be able to play against four big men. Robert Williams III is playing injured and Al Horford has just turned 36. Anything Daniel Theis could give them would be greatly appreciated. The Celtics managed to outclass by 12 points in the seven competitive minutes he played in that game. The moment he decided to try playing cover against Stephen Curry should have been the moment Ime Udoka decided to ban him for the rest of the series.

Steve Kerr’s revelations were forced upon him. Andre Iguodala was sent off before Game 2 due to knee inflammation. This allowed him to give Gary Payton II, who was a DNP-CD in Game 1, a largely significant 25 minutes. It’s no coincidence that the Celtics committed 18 turnovers in Game 2, five more than 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 were playing without him. Coincidentally, that’s Boston’s exact margin of playoff wins and losses. The Warriors scored 33 points on turnovers in Game 2, 18 more than the Celtics. They won the match by 19 points.

The problem with Payton’s extended minutes is that Boston has little interest in keeping him on the perimeter. Payton makes up for this in other ways. He’s a brilliant cutter and a nuclear athlete, but Golden State still needed to inject some spacing in other ways, especially given Green’s limitations as a shooter, so they tried Nemanja Bjelica, whose defensive weaknesses seem to have been greatly overestimated. He held his own against Luka Doncic in the last round and he did very well against Boston in Game 2.

As tends to play out in the Finals, after two games against each other, the Warriors and Celtics now seem to have a good idea of ​​who can survive this series and who can’t. Boston appears to have landed on eight: Tatum, Brown, Smart, Horford, White, Pritchard and the two Williams. Golden State has eight: Curry, Green, Payton, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr. and Jordan Poole. Bjelica made a compelling case for slot #9 tonight. Iguodala’s track record could give him the edge. But the days of Golden State punishing Theis seem to be over. From now on, we’ll probably only see 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. It’s a tough night but not exceptionally bad. Thompson has shot below 40% from the field in 15 of his 32 regular season games. He pukes a stink or two per series this postseason, and even when the full-game stat lines look decent, he’ll often have to salvage a miserable first half with a better second.

That’s not to say Thompson is some kind of train wreck. The peaks are still so high. His 32-point outburst to close out the Mavericks was vintage Klay. He still averages nearly 20 points per game in the playoffs. But the Warriors are desperate for a regular second scorer. Jordan Poole isn’t quite there yet and struggled in Game 1. Andrew Wiggins had a slow start to the final. Right now, Curry is generating almost everything on offense for Golden State. Thompson isn’t exactly a heavily used ball handler, but the offense goes a lot easier when the Warriors can at least rely on him to make some open shots and generate some of his own looks inside the bow.

He wasn’t able to counter Boston’s stellar defense in the Finals, and so far in the series he’s shooting just 30.3 percent from the field. The Warriors may have defended well enough to hold off Boston tonight, but they won’t win three more games with Thompson shooting like that. Their championship hopes hinge on the best version of him showing up more often than the worst, but night after night the Warriors don’t seem to know which one they’re going to get.