Oh, there are all sorts of ways to illustrate how Game 2 of the NBA Finals devolved into a debacle for the Celtics, but we might as well begin with something that is at least mildly amusing rather than infuriating.
Nick Stauskas, Sam Hauser, and Malik Fitts each outscored Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Robert Williams III. The members of the Celtics bench brigade scored 3 points apiece, while that trio of starters was limited to 2 each.
Luke Kornet, another member of the Eric Fernsten All-Stars, scored as many points (2) as the Celtics’ individual starting bigs. It’s too bad the Celtics couldn’t have found a rules loophole to let Matt Ryan and Broderic Thomas come in and tee up a few jumpers in their street clothes.
The box score tells us that the final score in Game 2 was Warriors 107, Celtics 88, but by no means was it that close. After Jayson Tatum hit a second straight 3-pointer with 4:32 left in the third quarter to cut the Golden State lead to 68-62, the Warriors began a 25-2 run that carried into the fourth quarter, effectively turning this one into a mockumentary titled, “Silly Celtics: You Really Thought You’d Sweep The First Two Here?”
Believe it or not, the Celtics’ third-quarter performance — when they were outscored, 35-14 — was even worse than that title.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka made the wise decision to send out his punt team and pull his starters with 10:45 left and the Celtics down, 93-64. The Terry Duerod tribute band that makes up the bench brought the final margin closer than the team deserved, actually “winning” the fourth quarter, 24-20. Wait, are we still doing that “winning quarters” thing, or was that strictly an Eastern Conference-only deal?
Anyway, after an adequate start — the Celtics led by as many as 9 in the first quarter, but carelessness with the basketball and curious shot selection helped the Warriors hover around and take a 52-50 halftime lead — the whole thing turned into a disaster.
It became achingly clear midway through that Steph Curry-fueled run (he had 29 points, and by the way, when did he become Jeter-level annoying?) that there would not be any hints of a comeback like the one the Celtics pulled off in Game 1, when they shot the lights out of the Chase Center and outscored the Warriors in the fourth quarter, 40-16.
The Celtics have now been outscored in the third quarters of this series, 73-38. Seems like something they ought to remedy if they indeed have serious intentions of collecting an 18th banner.
Despite the catastrophe in Game 2, don’t count on this series being settled soon. The Warriors adjusted after losing Game 1, most notably by cranking up Draymond Green’s agitator rating to 100. He didn’t play basketball in Game 2, he played bumper cars, and it was a brilliant tactic.
He trash-talked nonstop, annoyed more than one Celtic at once (Grant Williams, perhaps try the silent approach?), and is well aware that he gets away with more after picking up a technical foul because officials aren’t keen on kicking out prominent players.
The Celtics let Green get into their heads, but that is not why they lost. They lost because they didn’t protect the ball in the first half when they had a chance to seize some control (12 assists to 11 turnovers at halftime). They lost because Jaylen Brown scored the first 8 points for the Celtics and then carried himself as though a fast start makes him invincible for the rest of the game (he made 1 of his final 11 shots).
They lost because they stopped moving the ball, because Tatum (who did shoot well from deep) went 2 of 10 from 2-point range and was minus-36, because Robert Williams is struggling to move and there’s no decent alternative, and because Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams gave them only slightly more than Joe Barry Carroll and Purvis Short gave the Warriors.
Let’s admit it: It’s human nature after winning Game 1 the way they did to be comfortable to some degree knowing that if you lose Game 2, earning a split in San Francisco still shifts home-court advantage in your favor. Ime Udoka certainly didn’t look at it this way — he said his big takeaway from the first two games is that “we lost Game 2″ — but it is understandable that the Celtics might think to themselves, “Get the split, get home, and get it together there.”
Especially those Celtics who have to chase Curry through approximately 10 screens and a half-dozen lead blocks by Green per possession.
Sure, it’s frustrating that they lost, with the golden opportunity that they had. But it should come as no surprise. You know why they lost? Right, Curry got hot and the Celtics played some knucklehead ball.
You know why else? They lost because they are the 2022 Celtics, and for as much fun as this run has been, and will be again, we ought to know by now that they never, ever make it easy on themselves.
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