Still struggling with the champions: 10 takeaways from the Boston Celtics-Golden State Warriors

1. It was not a good night for the Boston Celtics. In a defeat that brought back far too many bad feelings from 2022 NBA Finalsthe Golden State Warriors rolled to a comfortable victory.

There’s no other place to start than with Jayson Tatum. This space doesn’t think the Warriors are necessarily in Tatum’s head, but he had a really bad game. Tatum only shot 6 of 21, as he couldn’t find his range on his sweater and missed several shots inside. He gets a bad game here and there; it was just a really tough place for him.

But the blame does not fall entirely on Tatum. Marcus Smart also had one of his worst games of the season. Derrick White failed to make a jump. Grant Williams looked hesitant. And Joe Mazzulla stuck with some of the same defensive blankets the Warriors ate in the Finals.

As several Celtics said after the game, it was just one loss and it won’t define their season. This is the right approach. And, as far as we know, Boston may only see Golden State once this season.

Winning Saturday night would not have been revenge for the final. It’s over and the Warriors are still the 2022 champions no matter what. But playing better, or at least playing differently in many ways, would have made that loss a little more palatable.

2. Arguably the most frustrating part of this loss was Boston stubbornly sticking to the drop-cover technique against the Warriors in pick-and-roll action. It became a major storyline in the Finals, as Al Horford, Robert Williams, Grant Williams and others backtracked repeatedly when a Golden State guard came off a screen.

The reason for playing drip coverage over switching is that it keeps you out of the mixer. When the Warriors topple and confuse you even a little, they put you in the cycle and spin you to death with a relentless stream of cuts, screens and passes.

Still, you have to pick your poison and let Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and to a lesser extent Jordan Poole, step in rider after rider seems like death by simplicity.

Trigger Warning: These clips may trigger PTSD in the 2022 NBA Finals.

Blake Griffin keeps this game, with Malcolm Brogdon. None of them were involved in the final, but this game feels like so many games in June. Griffin lies down, Brogdon can’t get across the screen in time, Curry buries the three:

It looks like Jaylen Brown is anticipating a change here, as he’s staying with Jonathan Kuminga. Once again, Griffin is back and Thompson enters an easy pull:

One last time, this time on a scramble. Kevon Looney doesn’t even really set that screen, but he’s in the way enough that Brown has to work around it because Griffin is back on the lane:

3. Sticking to the dripping cover…it’s not really Blake Griffin’s fault in any of the clips above. It executes the schema as it was designed. Without Al Horford or Rob Williams, Griffin started, and he can’t quite execute the switch pattern. (It’s fair to note that Boston has always fallen with Horford and Williams in the Finals as well, and they’re a lot more athletic than Griffin at this point.)

Late in the first half, Boston went with Grant Williams at five and found some success playing level on the ball. The handful of times they tried that with Griffin, the Warriors reset and attacked him off the dribble and moved the Boston defense. This is the mixer thing the Celtics wanted to avoid.

When the teams play again, assuming both are healthy, look for Boston to play their bigs. Here’s a good example of how Grant Williams standing up allows Derrick White to cross the screen to block Stephen Curry’s shot:

Curry will sometimes burn you on these plays because he is one of the best players in league history. But it’s better to make him work than to let him and others dribble jumper after jumper.

4. There was a strange lack of focus in this game from the Celtics at times. If you need to find someone in transition, you need to find Stephen Curry. Jayson Tatum signals the mics to everyone, but fails to find Curry himself and the result is an open triple:

5. Throughout the season, Boston has been one of the best defensive transition teams in the league. They limit the opportunities for the opponent and regularly block the handle on the other side. But, again speaking of a lack of focus, they let Golden State get some really easy ones in this game. This back-to-back set was a blatant example of poor defense.

First, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum got caught watching Blake Griffin hustle. Watch Marcus Smart telling them to come back for Klay Thompson on the run. Smart’s shoulders slump even as he sees the ball heading towards Thompson:

On the very next possession, Brown gets caught staring again. Here’s his rotation back to do:

This terrible two-piece set drew a timeout from Joe Mazzulla. In a rare moment, Mazzulla tore his team apart, presumably for losing focus and handing the Warriors two easy layups.

6. When Boston got level on the ball, they managed to shake things up. This led to easy transition opportunities.

Everyone is tense here. Jayson Tatum gets the steal and Jaylen Brown throws it back to him for the dunk:

Later in the quarter, Tatum skipped Curry and repaid Brown with his own lob:

On the next play, the help is there and Marcus Smart catches the steal before Brown and Malcolm Brogdon make the break:

The focus will be on the negatives, but there are good things Boston can bring into the upcoming game against Golden State.

7. With Jayson Tatum struggling, Jaylen Brown kept the Celtics within striking distance for most of the night. Brown did it by showing off his versatile scoring game. We raved in this space about Brown’s mid-range pull-up. Extending this retreat a few meters, like this, will open up his game even more:

It’s a good example of Brown’s change of pace ability. He rolls hard, but then slows everything down to hit the Warriors with the fake before making the layup:

This is another example of getting into Space Warriors on screen actions. Brown removes it then dominates the defenders for the lay-up:

On a night that a lot of Celtics had trouble, Brown stood out. As he has done so often in the Finals, Brown stepped up.

8. Late in the game, as the Warriors called a timeout to clear the bench, Grant Williams was sent off:

There seemed to be some confusion, including from Williams himself. In the NBA, if you deliberately throw, or in this case kick, the ball into the stands, it’s an automatic ejection. It’s been like this for years, and there are a handful of these ejections every season. Williams is also likely considering a fine, as that’s normal in these situations.

9. Despite the loss, some Celtics stepped in. We have already featured Jaylen Brown. But we want to focus a bit on the two veteran additions here. While the defensive scheme didn’t work, Blake Griffin did. He finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in his third straight start for Al Horford. Boston can’t ask for anything more than Griffin has given them this season. He was great.

We have repeatedly written or said a version of “Malcolm Brogdon will give the Celtics what they lacked in the Finals” and he did. Brogdon finished with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. The only real question: When Boston was making its last push, why wasn’t Brogdon on the ground?

10. The Celtics are now 3-1 on the trip. It was a game Boston fans really, really wanted. Maybe next time, with Al Horford and Rob Williams back, the Celtics will get it.

But again, this game can’t define anything for Boston. They return to it on Monday in the first of a straight set in Los Angeles. The Clippers are first, followed by the Lakers. The Celtics have a chance to go 5-1 on a road trip that includes games against six playoff prospects, including several title contenders. That’s more important than getting a single win, no matter how good it would have been to beat the Warriors.

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