NBA Finals: Celtics turn the tables on Warriors in Game 1
A 180, a reversal, a reversal, whatever you want to call it, the The Celtics turned the tables on the Warriors in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Finals. Boston outscored Golden State 40–16 in the final frame, limiting the Dubs to an 88.0 offensive rating. It was a defensive masterclass for the Celtics, who were the stingiest team in the regular season and have since improved in the playoffs. What was key to their fourth quarter stoppage on Thursday? That’s what Boston has done best all year: change.
After starting the game with Al Horford and Rob Williams – and oddly giving up on numerous pick and rolls – the Celtics played the entire fourth with just one big on the floor. Horford and Williams did not share the field, and the result was a smaller, faster and more changeable group.
“You know, sometimes they attacked Rob with [Andrew] Wiggins,” Ime Udoka explained after the match. “He was a little too low. Al was too. So we got a little more aggressive and took some of their air space three, tried to get them into the three-point line and have them fight over there, as well as follow the little formation. I did a few pre-switches to keep the big ones away, and it worked well for us.
Boston struggled with two big looks in Game 1. The front five of Horford, Williams, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were outscored by eight points in just 14 minutes. Overall, the Celtics were minus-10 with Horford and Williams together in 16 minutes, and minus-4 in eight minutes with Horford and Grant Williams. These pairs played a little more conservatively defensively, dropping Stephen Curry on the perimeter which allowed him to enter a couple of open threes.
As Udoka said, the switch allowed Boston to stay closer to the shooters in the fourth quarter. Curry saw far less beauty and as a team, Golden State only shot six threes before the garbage hour. The Warriors had thrown 37 attempts since the start of the quarter, or about 12.3 per period before the fourth. The pre-switch helped keep Rob Williams and Horford out of some action with Curry, and the smaller roster allowed the Celtics to trade games everywhere else on the floor.
Horford said after the game that the program also helped the Celtics on offensive glass. The Warriors had no offensive rebounds in the fourth until garbage time after picking up 11 through the first three quarters. Second-chance points buoyed Golden State’s half-court offense, which struggled for much of the game. By scrambling less on the perimeter, Boston was able to keep more bodies closer to the hoop in the fourth.
“Yeah, it’s been fun since I’ve been here, just all the defensive coverage we do, how we can mix and match and make changes throughout the game,” Derrick White said after the game. “Just having everyone there who can guard multiple positions is a lot of fun. That’s what we’re hanging our hats on.
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Also helps: Golden State lineups. The Warriors played much of the fourth with two non-shooters on the ground, narrowing their spacing significantly. Draymond Green played five minutes alongside Andre Iguodala, then another minute alongside Kevon Looney. (Curry’s three-guard lineup, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson as well as Wiggins and Green made an appearance, but by then The Boston race had turned into an avalancheand this group has defensive problems.)
Boston basically ignored Iguodala and Green on the perimeter whenever they were on the floor. Draymond prides himself on playing his role offensively, but his lack of shooting could end up being a pressure point in this series. Looney at least delivers elite rebounding when he’s the only big on the court. Green was left to his own devices offensively, and he responded with a 2-of-12 shooting night, including 0-of-4-of-three.
So what does all of this mean for the rest of the series? It’s tempting to say the Warriors will have to drop groups that have more than one non-shooter on the floor. This means avoiding Green-Iguodala and Green-Looney pairings, especially when Boston gets small. That’s not to say the Dubs can’t have success with such groups, only that the degree of difficulty will be much higher against a Celtics defense without glaring weaknesses (which hasn’t been the case in the last three). rounds).
But shot variance plays a role here, but to what extent is hard to decipher. Defensively, the Warriors also struggled, giving up wide-open looks at Horford (and others) on the perimeter. Of course, some Celtics brands have been lucky. And Horford, White, Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard probably wouldn’t connect 17 of 26 (65.4%) from deep on the exact same shooting regimen in Game 2. But a lot of those looks were clean. Containing dribble penetration, forcing harder shots and going out in transition will help the Warriors offensively as much as any formation they play, and that in turn helps defense. This game is also likely different if Draymond Green makes a few of his open threes and White misses a few of his tougher looks. (Another oddity: Pritchard played eight minutes in the fourth after playing six minutes in total the previous two games. Maybe the Dubs attack him more next time?)
Ultimately, the Warriors can’t overreact in Game 1. But they also can’t put their hands up and point at a hot shot. The Celtics were quicker to put larger groups on the floor Thursday, and the beauty of their roster is how well their defense holds up regardless of the combination of players on the floor. The Warriors didn’t have the same luxury in Game 1. If Golden State is aiming to swing the series in their favor, they need to solve the Celtics switch.
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