Many things went wrong for the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Their offense had rhythm aside from Jayson Tatum, they turned the ball over like crazy, and they lost the third quarter by 21 points, which effectively turned the game into a laugher.
The Warriors’ physicality forced many of the Celtics’ issues in Game 2
The potential cause for these struggles was that the Warriors were the more physical team than the Celtics. Led by Draymond Green, Golden State forced Boston into mistakes all game long, and it finally caught up to them in that horrid third quarter.
After the game, there was a lot of discussion about whether the refs gave Golden State, particularly Green, too much leeway with his aggressive play. Green’s skirmish with Jaylen Brown at the end of the second quarter could have seen Green ejected since he had already picked up a technical foul, but the refs opted to allow him to stay in the game. With the physicality set to remain at an all-time high as Game 3 approaches, Boston’s head coach Ime Udoka is encouraging his players to find their own way to handle Golden State’s physical play.
“I say be who you are. If you want to ignore it, ignore it. If you want to engage, engage. Do what you do, be who you are. The main thing is to continue to stay composed. With us, I don’t think it’s the talking as much as the physicality that they brought that was noticeable… I told them if I was a player, I’d probably get a double technical immediately (against Green). But that’s not everybody, so do what you do: block it out, or meet physicality with physicality.” - Ime Udoka, Boston Celtics.
Can the Celtics match Golden State’s intensity?
Udoka’s comments imply that some of Boston’s players got out of their zones against Green and the Warriors in Game 2 and based on what happened in the game, it’s fair to agree with that. Guys like Marcus Smart and Grant Williams will probably engage Green on a nightly basis.
On the other hand, a guy like Brown probably won’t, and when he did, it seemed to rattle him. It’s worth noting Green was his primary defender for most of Game 2, so maybe that had an impact on Brown, who only shot 5-17 from the field.
This isn’t the first challenge Boston has faced on their way to the Finals. Their previous two opponents made some critical adjustments with their physicality, which forced the C’s into countless mistakes. But they were able to adapt and survive, which is how they made it this far in the first place.
After steamrolling the Warriors in the fourth quarter of Game 1, it’s safe to assume Boston was caught off guard by Golden State’s aggression. There aren’t any excuses for that, but it’s bound to happen at some point throughout a seven-game series. The Dubs bounced back in Game 2; now it’s time for C’s to do the same in Game 3.
What that will look like remains to be seen. If the Celtics continue to run double big lineups as they have to start the series, they will have to establish more of a paint presence, especially when the Warriors go small with Green as their center. They could opt to go small to counter that and run a five-out offense, and given how well that worked late in Game 1, it makes sense to revisit some of those lineups in Game 3.
Defensively, the Celtics will have to continue their balancing act of containing Steph Curry while also not letting anyone else get hot. They did a good job aside from the third quarter, where Curry and Jordan Poole couldn’t miss. Dropping on screens set for Golden State’s perimeter players hasn’t worked in the first two games, and they are going to need to be more aggressive in their pursuit of these guys at the perimeter.
The Boston Celtics ultimately accomplished their goal of splitting the opening set of games out west, but now they have to protect their home court. Bouncing back in Game 3 will go a long way in determining who comes out on top in this series, so the Celtics better be prepared for another aggressive outing from the Warriors.