2022 NBA Finals: Two things the Celtics need to fix to bounce back in Game 3 against the Warriors

2022 NBA Finals: Two things the Celtics need to fix to bounce back in Game 3 against the Warriors

After being heavily outplayed by the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics will be looking to bounce back in Game 3 on Wednesday night. Luckily for the Celtics, they were perfect at doing just that in the playoffs. Boston is 6-0 after a loss in these playoffs so far, and they’ve not only won, they’ve covered in every one of those games.

Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum, in particular, has stepped up after Boston’s playoff losses this year. In the six games the Celtics have played straight from a loss, Tatum has averaged 31.5 points per performance while shooting 50% from the floor — down from 23.1 points on 39% shooting in losses.

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

1. Limit rotations

The formula has been pretty simple for the Celtics in this playoff. When they handle the ball, they win. When they don’t take care of the ball, they don’t win. They are 12-2 (including seven straight wins) when returning the ball less than 15 times. For example, they only had 12 turnovers in Game 1 against Golden State and were able to come away with a win.

However, the Celtics are only 1-5 when turning the ball over 15 times or more. In Game 2, they had 19 turnovers – including 15 live turnovers. Those mistakes led to a 33-point turnover loss for the Warriors, and that was a major factor in the result. The Celtics know they need to be better at this in Game 3 and beyond, but they don’t see it as a schematic problem, but more of a mental one.

“It’s kind of as simple as we just have to take care of the ball. We did that, and we’re a very good team when we take care of the ball,” Tatum said after Game 2. “But we have these slips where we, snowball effect, we pile up the reversals and we sink into a hole.

Veteran big man Al Horford considers the problem fixable.

“On our wins we haven’t returned it; on our losses we have returned it excessively,” Horford added. “That’s something we’ll have to look at this game individually and see how we can be. better. … I know we can avoid a lot of them. For us to have a better chance of winning, we have to reduce them.

Fifteen is the number to watch in Game 3. If Boston can keep their total turnover below that, they’ll maximize their chances of winning and taking a 2-1 series lead.

2. Perform better in the third quarter

The third quarter hasn’t been kind to the Celtics so far this series. In Game 1, they were outscored 38-24 in Game 3, although they eventually managed to earn a win with an incredible fourth quarter performance. In Game 2, they were outscored 35-14 in the third quarter. In total, they were ahead of 35 points (73-38) in the two third quarters combined.

The Warriors are a notoriously dangerous team in the third quarter, but Boston just needs to be better in that frame. This problem is not limited to this series, after all. The Celtics have been outscored by at least 14 points four times in the third quarter of 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 this contest.

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

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

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

“We turned the ball over. Take the teams off the score against us in the half court, give them baskets,” he added. “But it was more or less the same in that third quarter. We had 11 points for 18 points in that first half and lost five or six more in that quarter. Kind of, everything was blown up, and that also hampered our attack.”

Given that turnovers are also a big factor in Boston’s struggles in the third quarter, it seems that simply reducing them could solve many of the problems that have plagued them so far in the playoffs. Taking care of the ball should be the Celtics’ top priority heading into Game 3.

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