Stephen Curry objected to a potential 3-1 lead for Boston in the NBA Finals, which had been a possibility for much of Game 4. But the Celtics shot themselves in the foot with well-known problems. The reasons for the collapse in the fourth quarter – and what needs to be done better in the future.
1. NBA Finals: The old fatal Celtics pattern
“We’re not doing this on purpose, I promise you.” Those were Jayson Tatum’s words after his Celtics lost 97-107 in Game 4, when a reporter asked him about a recurring phenomenon: Boston always seems to make things harder for itself than absolutely necessary.
That was already seen against Milwaukee and Miami. The Celts certainly had chances to take control of the respective series early on and in the end had to fight their way through seven games. Also in game 4 of the finals there was a golden opportunity on the platter. 5:18 minutes before the end, the home side were in the lead with +4 – but the Warriors followed up with a 17:3 run.
If you look for the reasons for this slump, you very quickly end up with Stephen Curry. If you believe his Splash Brother Klay Thompson, the 34-year-old has played the best Finals game of his career. 43 points, 7/14 threes, against the new Warriors motto “Strength in Number 30” Boston ultimately found no answer.
Almost automatically, the focus is on Boston’s defensive performance, but the hosts can hardly blame themselves here. The Celtics usually even defended properly, Curry only scored outstandingly. “These included crazy throws against a good contest,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. He, like many of his players, saw another problem: “Our offense wasn’t good enough.”
NBA Finals: That’s why Boston’s clutch offense disappoints
That was also a correct observation, especially in relation to the fourth quarter. In the final section, Boston put on an offensive rating of 86.4 points per 100 possessions, ultimately seven of the last eight throwing attempts went wrong after the mentioned 4-point lead. Over the entire game, the offensive rating was still a meager 101.0.
The Celtics’ crunchtime offense has not covered itself in glory all season, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. That was confirmed in Game 4. The clutch stats of nba.com (everything within 5 minutes before the end with a point difference of 5 or less) should only appear with an age restriction, they read so brutally: 0:13 showed the scoreboard in the crunch time from the Celtics point of view, which at 0/6 FG and 0/5 threes stood.
Old patterns emerged that Boston used to make life difficult for itself. “We actually put ourselves in a position to win the game,” admitted Tatum. “There’s a lot of things we wish we’d done differently, especially on offense. We were way too lazy in the fourth quarter.”
“Sluggish” was a word on everyone’s lips at the Celtics postgame. “Everybody just stood there and stared at whoever had the ball. We have to do a better job of playing our offense in tight games,” said Derrick White.
NBA Finals: This is how Boston’s offense makes life difficult for itself
This problem is not new. It has often been observed how Boston’s offense slowed down the pace in tight games, no longer ran sets, but increasingly sought salvation in isolation late in the shot clock. This was also the case in Game 4, when matchup hunting in the worst sense of the word got the upper hand. For example, Boston attacked Nemanja Bjelica while the rest of the team stood around. But the Serb withstood the pressure with decent defense.
Other times a potential mismatch was ignored by a screen like this. Jaylen Brown could get the switch on Jordan Poole but turns down the screen to attack Klay Thompson. The Warriors guard is also very solid and is a better defender than Poole even after two bad injuries and a significantly reduced speed.
And other times, even good looks just wouldn’t fall in crunch time, Boston was freezing during this phase. Both the role players and the stars. Brown was 3/7 FG in the fourth quarter, Marcus Smart was 1/4, and Tatum was even 1/5. The latter in particular must deliver more.