June 11, 2024

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2022 NBA Finals: Two things Celtics need to correct in order to bounce back in Game 3 vs. Warriors

2022 NBA Finals: Two things Celtics need to correct in order to bounce back in Game 3 vs. Warriors

After being thoroughly outplayed by the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics will look to bounce back in Game 3 on Wednesday night. Luckily for the Celtics, they’ve been flawless at doing just that this postseason. Boston is 6-0 following a loss in these playoffs so far, and they’ve not only won, but have covered the spread in each of those games.

Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum, specifically, has stepped his game up following Boston’s playoff losses this year. In the six games the Celtics have played directly after a loss, Tatum has averaged 31.5 points per performance while shooting 50 percent from the floor — compared to 23.1 points on 39 percent shooting during the losses. 

The fact the Celtics have been so successful at responding to losses in the postseason tells you that they’ve been excellent at identifying — and employing — necessary adjustments. Here’s a look at two simple, yet important, corrections the Celtics need to make in Game 3. 

1. Limit turnovers

The formula has been pretty simple for the Celtics in these playoffs. When they take care of the ball, they win. When they don’t take care of the ball, they don’t win. They’re 12-2 (including seven straight wins) when they turn the ball over fewer than 15 times. For example, they only had 12 turnovers in Game 1 against Golden State, and were able to walk away with a win.

However, the Celtics are just 1-5 when they turn the ball over 15 or more times. In Game 2, they had 19 turnovers — including 15 live-ball turnovers. Those errors led to 33 points off turnovers for the Warriors, and that was a major factor in the outcome. The Celtics know they have to be better in that area in Game 3, and beyond, but they don’t view it as a schematic issue, but more of a mental one.

“It’s just kind of as simple as we’ve just got to take care of the ball. We’ve done it, and we’re a really good team when we take care of the ball,” Tatum said after Game 2. “But we have those lapses where we, snowball effect, we pile on turnovers and dig ourselves into a hole.”

Veteran big man Al Horford sees the issue as a correctable one.

“On our wins, we didn’t turn it over; on our losses, we turned it over excessively,” Horford added.” It’s something that we’ll have to look at this game individually and just see how we can be better. … I know we can prevent a lot of those. In order for us to be in a better chance of winning, we have to cut those down.”

Fifteen is the number to keep an eye on in Game 3. If Boston can keep its turnover total under that threshold, it’ll maximize its chances of winning and taking a 2-1 lead in the series.   

2. Perform better in the third quarter 

The third quarter has not been kind to the Celtics so far this series. In Game 1, they were outscored 38-24 in the third, even though they were ultimately able to pull out a win behind an incredible fourth-quarter performance. In Game 2, they were outscored 35-14 in the third quarter. In total, they’ve been outscored by 35 points (73-38) in the two third quarters combined.

The Warriors are a notoriously dangerous third-quarter team, but Boston simply needs to be better in that frame. This issue isn’t limited to just this series, after all. The Celtics have been outscored by at least 14 points four times in the third quarter in these playoffs, including in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. They were outscored by 25 points in the third quarter of that contest. 

Turnovers are part of the problem, as are lapses in defensive intensity, according to Tatum.

“I think tonight, turnovers, and I think sometimes letting our offense affect how we defend, kind of was a little stagnant in the third quarter,” Tatum said of Game 2 against Golden State. “I feel like it translated on the defensive end, and they got going and hitting shots and things like that.” 

Celtics coach Ime Udoka seemed to agree with Tatum’s assessment. “That’s been an ongoing theme in the playoffs so far,” Udoka said of poor fourth-quarter play.

“We’ve turned over the ball. Take teams out of scoring against us in the half court, give them some baskets,” he added. “But it was more of the same in that third quarter. We had 11 for 18 points in that first half and gave up five or six more in that quarter. Kind of blew it open, and that hampered our offense, as well.”

Since turnovers are also a big factor in Boston’s third-quarter struggles, it seems that simply cutting back on them could solve a lot of the problems that have plagued them so far this postseason. Taking care of the ball should be the top priority for the Celtics heading into Game 3.