Keep It Simple, Celtics: Why Boston’s Biggest Mistake Also Reveals Its Biggest NBA Finals Advantage Over the Warriors

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Keep It Simple, Celtics: Why Boston's Biggest Mistake Also Reveals Its Biggest NBA Finals Advantage Over the Warriors

BOSTON – Oh how easy basketball sounds listening to the Boston Celtics talk. They’ve lost seven games in the playoffs and after each one they’ve said they just need to get out of their own way. They know exactly what the opposing team is trying to do and they just have to be sharper: make the right readings, pay attention to the ball.

On the Tuesday before Game 3, coach Ime Udoka answered his trillionth question about turnovers. “The majority is too pervasive and plays in the crowd, as I speak quite often. Just don’t hold it.” In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a win, the Celtics got wide open 3s because their offense was “crisp and sharp.” In Game 2, a loss, they committed 15 live ball turnovers because they didn’t.

One by one, the players repeated this feeling. No self-inflicted wounds, no problems.

In Game 3 on Wednesday, Boston committed seven live ball turnovers. And guess what happened: The Celtics won, just like they did after all their other postseason losses. Patience was the key, according to Jaylen Brown, who scored 17 of his team-best 27 points in the first quarter.

“We want to play fast in the transition phase,” Brown said after the 116-100 win over the Golden State Warriors. “But if we settle down in half court, (we want to) get our spacing right, take our time and find the open lads and be ready to make games.”

Brown and Jayson Tatum, who had 26 points and nine assists, retreated near the halffield several times to create a runway to the rim. When attacking one-on-one, Boston’s stars were crucial, whether it was going all the way to the basket or finding an open teammate. They targeted discrepancies, and even as they attacked one of Golden State’s stronger defenders, they knew help would be there early and they knew who would be open.

The Celtics had watched the film of Draymond Green’s cat-and-mouse game on the sidelines and knew their reads had to get better. Udoka emphasized that the Warriors, unlike their two previous opponents, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat, do not have an impressive shot blocker around the basket. By rim pressure, Boston forced Golden State to scramble, resulting in open shots and offensive rebounds. Marcus Smart bounced back from underperforming with 24 points and five assists.

“We were just us,” Smart said. “Just keep driving the ball and trying to find a great shot for our teammates and ourselves. This Warrior team does a very good job of helping each other on defense. They will make you play the right game every time, and if you don’t, they will make you pay for it. For us, it was all about getting in the paint and making the right play. We took what they gave us and that was it.

The beauty of Boston’s offense is that when it works, it really is that simple. Tatum, Brown, and Smart are the top three playmakers, but everyone else in the playoff rotation is at least an excellent tie. Once the first domino falls, the Celtics will likely get a good look.

So what are we supposed to do with the times when their offense isn’t working, when their ball handlers are speeding up and their turnovers are piling up? Given that they are two wins away from a championship, perhaps the correct perspective is that the sloppy tracks are just a common mistake, not a fatal one. Maybe the only thing that matters is how Boston treats them.

Five months ago, in the scrum, as a 24-point lead dissolved at Madison Square Garden, urged Udoka the Celtics are said to “get our composure back” and “take care of the ball – it’s their own fault”. As an 18-point lead dissolved in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Udoka asked the team at TD Garden on Wednesday: according to longtime Celtics scribe Steve Bulpett, “Are you going to stop playing like assholes?” The same, really.

The difference is that this time Boston has regained its composure. Tatum recently cited that Jan. 6 loss in New York as the low point of the season, and it has been cited many times as a turning point. The Celtics were 18-21 then and went 33-10 after that, largely because they cleaned up their offense on offense. Tatum said after Game 3 that they are at their best now “when we respond to tough situations, when we respond to teams going on runs.”

As frustrating as it may be to see Boston making the same mistakes over and over again, see the bright side: It doesn’t have to keep finding new solutions! The Celtics had their worst offensive performance of the entire season (81.8 points per 100 possessions before trash time, according to Cleaning The Glass) in Game 2, followed by a dominant performance on the halfcourt, glass and paint. just by doing what they said they had to do.

Boston’s biggest advantage over the Warriors is that it has clarity. The Celtics are confident they’ll be fine as long as they keep it simple because they know they have a strength no team can match: an entire starting lineup full of tall, replaceable defenders, plus a few more of the Bank. Defense has carried Boston through underperforming offensive plays, and they don’t have to sacrifice their distance to put five elite defenders on the court. No other team in the league can say that.

At Golden State, things are more complicated. While everyone knows who the Celtics’ top seven players are, there’s not much division when it comes to the Warriors’ role players. What the rotation looks like then becomes a question of what the coaching staff think is most important at any given moment. You can go with Gary Payton II for defense or Jordan Poole for play, Kevon Looney for rebound or Nemanja Bjelica for shooting.

“We kind of plugged holes tonight,” said coach Steve Kerr after Game 3. Aside from a period in the third quarter when Stephen Curry got hot, “we couldn’t find that two-way combination.”

Almost everyone has to look for that kind of balance in the playoffs. Not Boston. Because of this, while Udoka has responded better to losses than wins in these playoffs, Udoka believes there is no Game 4 fear.

“I think we’ve seen what makes us successful,” said Udoka.

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