Through two games, this Finals has basically been decided by two quarters: Boston’s 4th quarter in Game 1, and Golden State’s 3rd quarter in Game 2. Outside of those two quarters, this series has basically been dead even (although Golden State did have a dominant 3rd quarter in Game 1 as well).
This was the classic Boston Celtics letdown game. Outside of their sweep of the Nets in the first round, we have seen Boston do this all throughout the playoffs. It’s why their prior two series have gone 7 games even though the Celtics, on paper, should’ve won both fairly comfortably.
And it’s why Boston may squander this NBA Finals if they’re not careful: you need to be on your Ps and Qs in the NBA Finals. You can’t be inconsistent for very long, or else you’re going to get bounced.
Boston is good enough to win this series, but I’m not sure if they’re capable of playing well enough to win this series. They’re just so up and down.
On paper, Jayson Tatum was better than he was in Game 1. After shooting 3-17 from the floor for 12 points in Game 1, he came up with an 8-19 shooting performance for 28 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. But he was a staggering -36 in 34 minutes played. That is atrociously bad. In fact, it’s the worst plus/minus in a Finals game by a single player since 1997, which is as far back as the data goes.
And while he did have 28 points, he scored 21 of them in the first half. So Tatum’s statline wasn’t bad at first glance, but when you start to break things down a bit, he didn’t have that great a game. Outside of the first half, he didn’t contribute much.
But it’s unfair to blame it all on Tatum. This was not all his fault. In fact, he was probably the only Celtic that played even close to a good game. The plus/minus thing is misleading, because every star player has the worst plus/minus on the team in a blowout–they’re the ones that play the most minutes, after all. And when virtually all of your teammates have terrible games, that’s going to drag your plus/minus down even if you have a decent game yourself.
The Celtics still managed to shoot 40% from three point range (15-37), but they were only 37.5% from the field overall (30-80). That means they were 15-43 on two pointers–34.8%. That is about as bad as it gets, quite honestly.
The Boston starters outside of Tatum were really bad: Horford was 1-4 from the field for 2 points in 28 minutes, Robert Williams was 1-1 for 2 points (in just 14 minutes played–more on this later), Marcus Smart was 1-6 for 2 points in 25 minutes, and Jaylen Brown was 5-17 for 17 points in 28 minutes. And then Derrick White, the top sub for Boston, went just 4-13 from the field for 12 points in 30 minutes.
So Tatum, Brown, Smart, Horford, Williams, and White shot a combined 20-59 from the field.
When it mattered most, when Golden State was going on that run in the third quarter, Jaylen Brown did not come up big: he was 1-5 from the floor for just 2 points in the third. In fact, 13 of his 17 points in the game came in the first quarter, and after the first quarter, he was a disgusting 1-11 from the floor.
From Golden State’s perspective, Game 2 went the way Game 1 should’ve gone: the Warriors go on a ridiculous run in the third quarter, jump out to a double-digit lead, and then never look back. In Game 1, the Celtics roared back from a 15 point deficit for a 12 point win, but in this game, the Celtics stayed down after getting outscored 35-14 in the third quarter in what was at halftime a 52-50 Golden State lead. So it was 87-64 going into the 4th quarter, and that was ballgame.
Jordan Poole had 17 points off the bench, including 5-9 three point shooting, and was sinking some absolutely filthy shots during that third quarter run. He honestly looked like a young Steph out there with how deep he was pulling up.
But Steph was ultimately the star of the show, dropping 29 on 9-21 shooting and 5-12 three point shooting. He added 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals and was a team-best +24 for the game in 32 minutes played. It wasn’t an all-time great performance, but it was enough to get the win.
Klay Thompson had a bad game: he was 1-8 from three and 4-19 from the floor overall for 11 points. BIG yikes, but it didn’t really matter, obviously. And this was likely just an aberration from Klay–we know he’s better than that. He won’t go 4-19 again.
If you look at the team stats, things were pretty much equal in most categories:
- Field goals: Boston was 30-80 from the floor (37.5%), Golden State was 39-86 (45.3%)
- Three point shots: Boston was 15-37 (40.5%), Golden State was identical: 15-37
- Free throw: Slight edge to Boston, 13-17 from the line vs. 14-20 for Golden State
- The teams each had 6 offensive rebounds apiece
- Boston won the overall rebounding battle narrowly 43-42
- Golden State had 25 assists to Boston’s 24
- Boston had 7 blocks to Golden State’s 2
- Boston had 18 personal fouls, Golden State had 17
- Fast break points: narrow Boston edge, 13-12
But here were the biggest discrepancies:
- Turnovers: 18 for Boston, 12 for Golden State. Golden State had a whopping 33 points off of Boston’s turnovers, while Boston had just 15. That’s an 18 point difference in a game that Golden State ultimately won by 19. Boston’s turnovers were crucial.
- It wasn’t just Boston turning the ball over: the Warriors made them turn the ball over. Golden State came up with 15 steals to Boston’s 5. So 15 of Boston’s 18 turnovers were caused by Golden State steals. That’s an extremely impressive defensive effort by the Warriors. People have overlooked their defense for years, but they have always–since the start of this dynasty run in the 2015 season–played strong to elite defense. That’s the most overlooked aspect of this era of Warriors basketball. They’ve always been excellent defensively. Maybe people have trouble believing it because Steph is always portrayed as a defensive liability and they’re primarily known for their flashy three point shooting, but Golden State has always placed a high emphasis on defense, and it’s the unsung reason they’ve been so good for so long.
- Golden State also absolutely dominated points in the paint 40-24.
As Sunday went on and we got closer to the game, and I had been listening to podcasts and YouTube videos about the Finals, I started to become more and more convinced that Golden State would win Game 2 running away. It was a game they absolutely had to have, and on top of that, Boston is, as we talked about earlier, prone to letdown games. The final score would indicate that Golden State won easily, but if you watched the first half of the game, you’d know that wasn’t the case. Golden State only started to pull away in the third quarter.
I still don’t understand how, after all these years, the Third Quarter Warriors Run is still a thing. Like, hello? Everybody in the league knows that’s Golden State’s thing. They come out and shoot the lights out in the third quarter. That’s when they bury teams.
And yet it still happens–other teams still can’t stop it. I don’t know how it happens with regularity when the whole league knows it’s coming. I guess that’s what makes it all the more impressive: when you know it’s coming and you still can’t stop it.
This is why I think Steve Kerr is one of the very best coaches in the league, if not the best. Because of the third quarter runs his team is known for. The third quarter runs indicate superior halftime adjustments and gameplan tweaks on Kerr’s part. So credit to coach Kerr.
Ime Udoka is going to have to step his game up here, because it’s these third quarter runs by Golden State that are deciding this series. I would assume that after two consecutive games of crazy Warriors runs in the third quarter (in which the Warriors have outscored the Celtics by a combined 73-38), the Celtics are going to get serious here and do something about it.
Ultimately, I’m rooting for a good series. I guess in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to see Golden State win another ring, but then again, I do want to see Steph finally get a Finals MVP just so people will shut up about him never winning one. We all know he’s an all-time great, a borderline top-10 all-time player, but the one big thing missing on his resume is the Finals MVP. He doesn’t need it to validate his career, because he’s already done that and so much more, but it’s still a box that needs to be checked. When you talk about the all-time greats–LeBron, MJ, Kareem, Magic, Bird, Shaq, Hakeem, Kobe, Duncan, KD and all the rest–they all have Finals MVPs. Steph is the only one that doesn’t. In today’s basketball culture, where it’s all about nitpicking the hell out of guys’ resumes, and magnifying their flaws and deficiencies, Steph’s lack of a Finals MVP is glaring.
If and when he gets one, hopefully people can start to just talk about his greatness without qualifications and without the “Yeah, but…”
I mean, come on: he deserved to win it in 2015. Sure, Iguodala wasn’t undeserving, but when you think of the “MVP” award–Most Valuable Player–would Golden State have won that 2015 Finals, or even been anywhere close to getting there, without Steph? Absolutely not. He was their leading scorer, leader and the beating heart of their team. Would the Warriors have won that Championship without Iggy and his defense on LeBron? Maybe not, but they might have. You can make the argument that they would’ve still won that Championship without Iggy. But you cannot make the argument that Golden State would’ve won in 2015 without Steph. And that’s why I think it’s ridiculous that Iggy got Finals MVP over Steph.
So I am kind of pulling for Steph to get this Finals MVP just to put an end to the “Steph has no Finals MVPs!!!” talk. Because yes, in a way, it’s valid. Steph has not truly been Steph in the NBA Finals, and he’s been there 5 times before this. He choked in 2016, he wasn’t the clear cut Finals MVP in 2015, he was the #2 behind KD in 2017 and 2018, and in 2019, when KD was out for all but 11 minutes of the series with injuries, Steph wasn’t nearly good enough to carry the team.
And another key point: what is Steph’s greatest Finals moment? There is no game or sequence that really stands out, or immediately comes to mind, is there?
It’s wrong to say Steph has been bad in the Finals, because he absolutely hasn’t. But it’s fair to say he doesn’t really have that signature Finals moment.
At the same time, the idea that Steph has not been the single most valuable and important player on the Warriors since the dynasty run began is absolutely ludicrous. Even when they had KD, it was still Steph who was the straw that stirred the drink–KD was the #1 option on those teams, but Steph was the one that made it all happen. He was the one who made life easy for KD. I mean, after all, they did win 73 games in a season without KD when Steph was the top option.
So I do want to see Steph get that Finals MVP, if only to shut people up.
Colin Cowherd on Monday made a great point about the Celtics not being “ready” to be Champions yet and I think I’m ultimately inclined to agree with him, although this doesn’t mean I think Boston is sure to lose the series. I just think that at the end of the day, teams follow their superstar, and if their superstar isn’t a killer, it makes it very difficult to win Champions.
In the HBO series “Winning Time,” Red Auerbach’s character is sitting down with new Lakers owner Jerry Buss, and Auerbach explains to him that “Championships aren’t won. They’re taken.”
I think that speaks to something important about competition at the highest level: when you get to the Finals, both teams are supremely talented, battle-tested, and efficient on both offense and defense. They’re both capable of winning. But what really separates the Champions from the runners-up is that killer mentality, that ruthlessness–the willingness to go out and take what you want. The other team isn’t just going to give up and let you win the Championship; you have to take it from them. You have to pry it out of their cold, dead hands, metaphorically speaking. You have to wrest it away from them.
They want to win, and they’re going to do everything in their power to win. Are you prepared to do more than they are? Are you prepared to spend the extra hours in the gym, hitting the weight room, watching film, practicing plays, and staying sharp? Are you prepared to dive on the ground for loose balls, flop, embellish, argue with the refs, throw elbows, box out, and push around grown men who don’t want to be pushed around, and who are in fact trying to push you around?
You have to push harder than they push.
Winning Championships is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the nice guys who feel bad about their success coming at someone else’s expense. But if you’re going to win a Championship, you must be okay with the fact that it will inevitably come at someone else’s expense.
I think a lot of people just assume talent always wins out, and that if you’re the more talented team, you can and will win without getting your hands dirty. Sometimes this is true, like when there’s a massive talent disparity, but it’s not always the case. It’s usually the team that wants it more that wins. We hear this all the time, but I don’t think people understand what it truly means: it means that you have to be willing to do anything to win. Desperate to win.
And what about when the talent level and coaching are about even, as it is in this Finals series?
Then, it comes down to The Will To Win. It comes down to who has the stones to go out and take it.
You have to be selfish and even a bit psychotic to be a Champion. I tend to roll my eyes at all the “Tenacity” and “Killer instinct” adulation that is constantly showered on MJ and Kobe, but it’s not because tenacity and killer instinct aren’t important. I roll my eyes because people act like MJ and Kobe are the only players in the NBA’s history that were psychotically competitive, and that that alone is what made them so successful (and, implicitly, is the reason other players have had less success), rather than other factors beyond their control.
But it is true that you have to be a ruthless, almost psychotic competitor in order to reach the top. You have to be selfish, and take a zero-sum view of the world: that someone is always out there trying to eat your lunch, and take food off of your family’s table. Because if you start to feel empathy, or sympathy, or compassion for the other team, and start to feel bad about the fact that you’re pushing, shoving, elbowing and bullying them, you’re going to lose your edge.
Not all players are cut out for this. You have to have a bit of a mean streak. You have to be a bit of a bully. It’s like the law of the jungle out there: might makes right. If you’re going to climb the ladder, you’re inevitably going to step on a few toes on your way up. You have to be okay with making enemies, and okay with being a bully.
And this is how I interpreted Colin’s remarks: is Jayson Tatum that guy? Is he willing to do all that? Is he a killer? Is he the guy who will, as Auerbach says in the clip above, rip your heart out and still sleep like a baby at night?
I don’t think so, but then again, I don’t know for sure. He can certainly prove us doubters wrong, and I hope he does. Because if he’s not going to be a killer, then Boston will lose this series. The team will follow his lead, and if he’s not got the killer mentality, then neither will his teammates.
I think Marcus Smart has that mentality, but because Tatum is the superstar, it has to be him with the killer mentality in order for the team to follow suit. The team follows the superstar. If the superstar isn’t a killer, then that team likely will not win a Championship.
Golden State is full of killers. Draymond Green is a killer of the highest order. He will do anything in order to win. He’ll roll around on the floor, poke you in the eye, kick you in the nuts–anything. Steph Curry may seem like a nice and happy guy, but there’s a reason they call him the Babyface Assassin: the guy’s a killer. So is Klay Thompson. The Warriors know what it takes to win.
But does Boston?
Jayson Tatum fancies himself as the guy to carry on Kobe’s legacy.
Well, this is where he’s got to prove it. He’s gotta adopt the Mamba Mindset–the assassin’s mindset.