After posting the best defense in the league, the Celtics have carried that calling card into The Finals. Boston is holding Golden State to an offensive rating of 110.8 points per 100 possessions and been able to more or less contain the Warriors’ explosive offense in the halfcourt.
For all the hand-wringing over the Celtics’ drop coverage on Steph Curry and their overall defensive strategy, the difference between Games 1 & 3 and 2 & 4 has been the variance of Boston’s offense. In their wins, the Celtics have combined for 236 points; in their losses, they’ve dramatically dropped to 185.
That fact was punctuated in clutch time of Game 4. After building a 4-point lead with 5:18 remaining in the 4th quarter, Boston was outscored 17-3, making just one of their final eight shots, including 1-for-7 from behind the arc. As has been the case for much of the playoffs, it wasn’t turnovers that plagued them. Instead, shot selection doomed them with an opportunity to go up 3-1 in The Finals.
For the Celtics and their best offensive player, Jayson Tatum, it’s about attacking mismatches and more importantly, making the right basketball play as a ball distributor.
“With Jayson, sometimes we equate missing shots with playing poorly. What we’ve seen is, he’s had some really good looks, especially in Game 1, and we knew that if he got those same looks throughout the series, he’d be successful,” Ime Udoka said on Sunday before practice.
“They are trying to take him out and guard him with two at times and don’t want to give him specific matchups and at times, he has to be the playmaker. In the two wins, he’s had 13 and 9 assists; he’s getting 11 in those and he’s down around 5 in the losses.”
Udoka specifically suggested small tweaks to Tatum’s game. With how much they’re keying in on him, playing off two feet and going to the driving stronger should improve his percentages around the rim. But ultimately, trusting his teammates will make the right play after he makes the right play is the key heading into these final games.
“It’s something we’ve got to get better at as a team: knowing who’s on the floor, knowing what we’re trying to take advantage of, how to get guys in the best position to be the best version of themselves,” Tatum said.
Game 4 marked the Celtics’ eighth loss in the playoffs and they’ve responded seven times in a row with a win (and for what it’s worth, the Warriors are 6-0 in this postseason in a similar position). Game 5 is the final opportunity to do it again and Boston appears confident heading into Monday’s matchup.
“I’ll take our group, our guys vs. anybody,” Jaylen Brown said before practice.
Tatum echoed that sentiment. “I’m confident like I’ve been all playoffs. I’m confident that we’ll respond.”