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Saturday, December 10, 2022

Golden State's Stifling Defense Suffocates Boston's League-Leading Offense

The Boston Celtics started the season with a league-leading 21-5 record, featuring a historically great offense paired with a solid defense. Meanwhile, the defending champion Golden State Warriors--who defeated the Celtics 4-2 in the 2022 NBA Finals--started the season 3-7 before climbing up to 13-13 heading into Sunday night's NBA Finals rematch in the season debut of ABC's Saturday Primetime NBA package. The highly anticipated game turned into a 123-107 Golden State blowout.

The "Splash Brothers" will get most of the headlines, and there is no doubt that Stephen Curry (32 points, 12-21 field goal shooting--including 6-11 from three point range) and Klay Thompson (game-high 34 points, 14-26 field goal shooting--including 4-11 from three point range) both played very well--but the bigger story is that the Warriors dominated the boards (outrebounding the Celtics 53-39) while holding the Celtics to .437 field goal shooting, including .300 from three point range. Jayson Tatum is having the greatest scoring season in Celtics history (30.5 ppg prior to Sunday's game), but the Celtics limited him to 18 points on 6-21 field goal shooting. 

Curry has played at a high level from the start of the season, but the Warriors were mired well below .500 because of their leaky defense, and their recent improved play can be linked directly with better defense. Pointing this out takes nothing away from Curry's status as an all-time great player; it is just a reminder that--three point shot evolution/revolution and "advanced basketball statistics" notwithstanding--defense and rebounding win basketball championships. Without defense and rebounding, the fine shooting performances by Curry and Thompson versus Boston would have been wasted.

Prior to Sunday night, the Celtics looked like an unstoppable team on a mission to avenge their NBA Finals defeat. One regular season loss does not wipe out 21 wins--the Celtics still have the league's best record, while the Warriors are barely above .500--but this has to be a disconcerting and sobering setback for a team whose mentality is championship or bust. The same problems that haunted the Celtics after they took a 2-1 Finals lead versus the Warriors resurfaced tonight: the Warriors pounded the Celtics on the boards, and they outmuscled them in the paint, reducing the Celtics' fine-tuned offense to something resembling an old jalopy sputtering its way to the junkyard. Tatum's inability to finish in the paint versus the Warriors is as consistent as it is puzzling; he is typically a strong and efficient offensive player, but in the Finals and in this game he labored just to make a shot. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 31 points on 13-23 field goal shooting, and offseason acquisition Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points on 6-10 field goal shooting off of the bench, but the Warriors targeted Tatum in an excellent example of the old adage, "Cut off the head of the snake and the snake will die." 

The Celtics suffered from the absence of big men Al Horford (health and safety protocols) and Robert Williams III (left knee surgery), but the Celtics had Horford and Williams III (albeit limited by injury) in the NBA Finals and were still dominated in the paint and on the glass. It is also worth noting that the Warriors were without the services of Andrew Wiggins, who had a major impact defensively and on the boards in the NBA Finals. The second and final regular season matchup between these teams will take place on January 19 in Boston; it will be interesting to see how the Celtics respond.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:56 PM



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