Since the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs, the Boston Celtics have won 2 series and are 2 games into the NBA Finals. The trend of losing after a W continued on Sunday night with a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. During the 16-game span following the Brooklyn Nets sweep, the Boston Celtics have won back-to-back games just twice. Following a loss, the Celtics are 6-0 and have generally come out strong and with energy, but following a W the last 3 rounds (within a series), they are just 2-5 including 3 losses at home. The uneven play is completely baffling and Sunday was a prime example of the team forgetting their identity. They fall back into old habits with limited ball movement and as a group they struggle to get anything going for stretches at a time. From the latter part of the 2nd quarter on, the Celtics looked like the under-.500 group from November, not the well-oiled machine that has them in the NBA Finals.
Prior to the series, if you had told me the Celtics would be 1-1 and take a game in San Francisco, I would have been delighted by that result. While it’s not surprising the Celtics continued their L after a W trend, the way they got completely outplayed and embarrassed in game 2 is just bizarre and frankly, on brand. The lockdown defense and offensive ball movement that has helped this team get to the NBA Finals shows up for periods of time, but then for some reason, things fall apart. In a number of the games, it’s been the struggles of Jayson Tatum on the offensive end that has led to turnovers and forced drives/shots, but last night, it was a full team failure on both ends. From the start, there were too many lost possessions, either because of bad turnovers (7 in the first quarter) or drives into traffic that led to low-percentage shots. The Cs stayed in the game in the 1st quarter thanks to 6 3s (3 each for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown), but too many times the poor offensive possession led to poor defense, as the Celtics gave up too many good looks to the Warriors. The Warriors missed a bunch of layups and close shots in the 1st quarter and honestly should have been up by a lot more than 1 after 1.
To the Warriors credit, they came out significantly more aggressive in game 2 and the Celtics, like previous rounds, couldn’t adjust and punch back. They let Draymond Green dictate the intensity and pressure without an answer, despite being a team that likes to play aggressively. Most could have predicted Golden State was going to press more and push back on the Celtics after their embarrassment of game 1, but the Cs seemed surprised by it and couldn’t figure it out, despite playing in 2 previous series where defensive intensity was at the center of play. The Celtics seemed more interested in getting a foul call than playing sound basketball at times. The body-language turned in the 3rd quarter and it seemed like the Cs just forgot how to play Celtic basketball. I have been a big fan of Daniel Theis in his tenure with the team, but his play this postseason has been tough to watch at times and for the 6th straight game, he posted a negative point differential. He one nice block but allowed numerous offensive rebounds for the Warriors and was caught lost under the basket a handful of times rather than finding a body to box out. I have a lot of concern if Robert Williams is unable to play or limited at any point in this series, which is a possibility given the knock he took on his knee in game 2 and his questionable status before both games 1 and 2.
Ultimately, if the Cs continue the trend of winning after a loss, they will win the series in 7, but that’s a lot to ask given the Warriors home court advantage. The team needs to come together, have a classic rebound game on Wednesday night in Boston and then figure out how to not get run out of the gym in game 4. The Celtics have the talent, athleticism, and coaching to win the NBA title, but if we see stretches like we saw in game 2 throughout the rest of the series, they’ll be cleaning out their lockers without the ultimate prize in hand.