Boston Celtics: The simple change that needs to be made for Game 3

Jayson Tatum #0 and Grant Williams #12 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 and Grant Williams #12 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the 2022 NBA Finals was ugly. After hanging in the game for most of the opening 30 minutes, the Warriors went on a 19-2 run to end the third quarter that effectively ended the game then and there.

There are a lot of concerns that popped up in Game 2, but the overarching positive is that Boston is now heading back to TD Garden with the series tied at 1-1. Golden State needed to win Game 2 more than Boston, but that doesn’t excuse their utter lack of effort on Sunday night.

The focus has really been on what went wrong for the Celtics, but we need to move past that now. It’s time to figure out what can be done to win Game 3. And after watching two games of action so far, it’s clear what the C’s need to do to counter the Warriros adjustments made in Game 2.

The Boston Celtics need to get rid of their double-big lineups and go small

The Boston Celtics’ torrid run in the fourth quarter of Game 1 was largely a result of coach Ime Udoka deciding to run a smaller lineup to counter the Warriors running Draymond Green as a small-ball center. It worked like a charm, as the Celtics won the quarter 40-16, and they rallied to take a surprising 1-0 series lead.

It was reasonable to expect that sort of lineup to make a return in Game 2, but it never really did, and it probably cost the C’s the game. Kevon Looney checked out of the game midway through the third, and Golden State went small with Green at center, but Udoka didn’t follow suit. He kept two bigs on the floor throughout, and it wasn’t surprising to see both Grant Williams and Daniel Theis on the floor when Golden State went on their run at the end of the quarter.

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Udoka seemed like he wanted to try to give his starters a breather so that they could make a run in the fourth, similar to Game 1. He got too cute with it though, and the Warriors made the Celtics pay. It should be clear now that the double big lineup isn’t going to cut it against Golden State.

The main problem with the double-big lineups is that Robert Williams isn’t healthy enough to really scare the Warriors in the paint right now. He’s still good for a couple of blocks and dunks per game, but Golden State is coming pretty close to playing him off the court. He provides no spacing on offense since he can’t shoot, which is bogging things down in the paint, and he’s struggling to stay with anyone at the perimeter when he gets dragged out there on defense.

Williams should only be used when Looney is on the floor for Golden State. For whatever reason, Udoka is trying to stash him on Andrew Wiggins at the perimeter, which doesn’t make sense because Wiggins is a pretty good shooter. The obvious option seems to be Green since he is a much worse shooter from behind the arc, but maybe Udoka doesn’t want to get Williams involved on the many sets Green is involved in as a screener, which does make a bit of sense.

Other than that, there’s no reason to not be going small at this point. Derrick White has been a revelation off the bench shooting threes recently, and by limiting his minutes, Boston is only making things easier on Golden State. He’s a far better scheme fit against Golden State than he was against teams like Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat.

Not only does White help the Boston Celtics accomplish what they want on offense by providing more spacing, but he can stick with Golden State’s most dangerous perimeter threats as well. Grant Williams is another guy who could be an option, but he hasn’t been all that great defensively to start, even though he remains a solid perimeter shooter on the other end.

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The main defensive problem in Game 2 was Golden State using Green to create space at the perimeter on screening actions. It’s a very simple concept; Green screens at the perimeter, giving the ballhandler space to either shoot a three, or hit Green as he rolls to the paint. The Warriors have enough shooting where you cannot really slide off of other guys at the perimeter to help, so it puts a ton of pressure on two players while the rest of the defense is stuck where they are.

Keeping Robert Williams (or Theis, who found himself on the court in these situations for reasons that I cannot explain) on the floor in these situations is detrimental. Al Horford and Grant Williams can kind of make Golden State earn their money in these situations, and they are going to need to work way harder for their baskets than they did in Game 2.

Based on what the Warriors did in Game 2, it may make sense to stick Jayson Tatum on Green and try to put Horford on Wiggins or whoever comes off the bench first for Golden State. The best case to counter a Steph Curry/Green pick-and-roll is going to be Tatum and Marcus Smart, because they can conceivably stick with both guys. Horford’s fit becomes more complicated, but he’s a good enough defender to make it work.

Assuming Looney still starts for the Warriors, it makes sense to keep Williams on the floor in a starting capacity and just try to match their minutes as best as possible. But with Green at center, Boston isn’t giving themselves any advantage by staying big. Even when it comes to rebounding, which should be a strength considering Horford, Williams, and Theis are all bigger than Green, Boston has been getting beaten on the glass when Green is in at center.

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The Boston Celtics best stretch of basketball this series came when they went small and dominated the perimeter on both ends of the floor. White has played well enough that this is a legitimate option that needs to be taken advantage of immediately moving forward. Golden State threw a good punch in Game 2, but Boston already had their answer in front of them, they just need to put it into play now.