Celtics

Celtics Imploded to Warriors’ Defensive Masterclass in Game 2

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The prevailing storyline after Game 2 of the NBA Finals is — once again — that the Warriors dominated the third quarter while the Celtics wilted.

But the one-sided period was spurred by a terrific defensive performance, even though Golden State was very efficient on offense. 

The Celtics have been hailed as the best defensive team in the NBA and deservedly so. But in the decisive third quarter — and for much of the game — it was Golden State’s defense that truly turned the game. Boston could not get off any shots without being fully harassed, annoyed and distracted– something the Celtics look to turn around at their home court with all the books favoring the local team.

Warriors Fully Stifled Boston’s Offense After Halftime

An Admirable Display Of Intense Defense Quieted The Celtics

Boston missed 11-of-15 shots in the third quarter on Sunday.

That’s because the Warriors played their best defense of the series so far during that period. In the first half, the Celtics stayed in the game with crisp ball movement and pinpoint accuracy on deep shots. Even when Jayson Tatum had Gary Payton II draped all over him, he still hit his threes.

The Warriors went into halftime with a lead of just two points, and while they had outplayed the Celtics in the second quarter, there was a sense that another Boston run could put Golden State into untenable territory. After the Game 1 meltdown, no lead seemed too safe against the Celtics’ balanced attack. 

After halftime, the Warriors played the kind of defense the Celtics themselves could admire if it was being executed against another team. Golden State simply smothered any chances outside the arc. They cracked down on the ball movement that had challenged them throughout five of the first six quarters of the series. And any interior attempts were met with a sea of bodies and outstretched hands that seemingly misdirected every shot attempt. 

Yes, the Warriors put on an admirable and frequently dazzling shooting display in the third quarter of Game 2. But defense is what truly spurred the victory for them. Their dedication to stifling every possible shot led to an early surrender from Boston. 

With just over 10 minutes left in the game, the Celtics had their reserves on the floor. The TV cameras captured Tatum with a quizzical look on his face, seemingly stunned that the game had gotten so far out of control after Boston had stayed right with Golden State for much of the first half.

When the Celtics raced out to a 22-13 first-quarter lead, it seemed like the momentum of a historic fourth-quarter comeback from Game 1 was possibly carrying over to the second game. But then the Warriors responded instead of fading away, scoring 18 of the game’s next 26 points.

The teams hung even for the rest of the first half, and the matchup had the feel of one that would come down to the final seconds. 

Boston Fizzled Badly, And Now Must Bounce Back

Tatum hit on five of seven three-point attempts in the first half and scored 21 points as he assured Boston of sticking with Golden State. There were eight lead changes in the second quarter. 

But Tatum could only manage seven points the rest of the way. He desperately tried to draw fouls while his teammates fully wilted under the tremendous defensive pressure that wrecked the entire rhythm of the Celtics’ offense. 

The Warriors outscored the Celtics 19-2 to close the third quarter, capped by Jordan Poole’s electrifying three-point bomb from just inside the half-court line as time expired.

That was the knockout blow, and Boston had to start looking ahead to the third game a few minutes thereafter.

After a marvelous comeback in Game 1, the pressure was on the Warriors to respond. It took them until after halftime, but they delivered their retort in resounding fashion. Now the expectation will be for Boston to spring back. 

To do that, they will need a better shooting outing from Jaylen Brown, who missed 12-of-17 shots. Derrick White missed nine shots and Marcus Smart was 1-for-6. Game 1 hero Al Horford was held to two points. 

Fully holding down Tatum seems nearly impossible, but Golden State almost completely neutralized his supporting cast for a long stretch on Sunday. Horford was a non-factor. If he can effectively gun from deep, the Celtics can be hard to beat. The Warriors learned that the hard way in the fourth quarter of Game 1. 

Now the Celtics will have to prepare for an attacking, rotating, in-your-face style of defense that proved to be their undoing in Game 2.  If they get trapped into too much half-court play in Game 3, the smothering could start all over again. 

Ime Udoka and his staff have their work cut out for Game 3. He has done a fine job all season, and Boston made it this far when it seemed their season was headed into the abyss early in the year.

We should have a different flow of play in Game 3, as the Celtics quickly look to put the blowout behind them.

About The Game Day's Scott Engel

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