6 takeaways as Jayson Tatum and Celtics struggle in Finals rematch against Warriors


“We never want to lose, and we played well, and losing this one – especially the way we played – was tough,” Tatum said.

Boston Celtics goalie Malcolm Brogdon (13) heads for the basket against Golden State Warriors goalie Stephen Curry during the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. ( AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez) The Associated Press

The Celtics fell to the Warriors 123-117 on Saturday night in a disappointing Finals rematch, falling to 21-6 on the season.

Here are the takeaways.

1. A big Jayson Tatum game looked likely when the Warriors announced Andrew Wiggins would be out on Saturday.

Instead, the Celtics MVP contender put on a rough performance, possibly his worst of the season. He shot just 6 for 21 from the field, including 2 for 9 from behind the arc and 4 for 7 from the free throw line.

Tatum’s first play was a harbinger – a nice cut to the rim, which almost freed him for an easy lay-up. Klay Thompson, however, appeared out of nowhere and knocked him off the glass. A minute later, Tatum tried to go 1-on-1 with Kevon Looney on the edge, and Looney made the shot uncomfortable enough to force the miss.

Tatum never really recovered. He missed seven 3-pointers and even a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter that could have cut the lead to six for one final push with 5:02 remaining. The Celtics’ regular rotation scored just two more points the rest of the way as the Warriors went 14-2.

“Man, I missed a lot of lay-ups”, Tatum told reporters. “I had two fouls at the start of the first quarter. Missed a few three. They are a good team. Obviously we have a history with them. They’ve been playing better lately, and they’re a well-rounded team with talent on both sides. They make it difficult for you.

“I think maybe my contact was off. Lots of easy things that I missed made it difficult tonight.

It’s possible that Tatum missed a few early lay-ups and tried to get back into rhythm without success. But Saturday’s struggles resurrected some ghosts that Celtics fans hoped had dispelled into the ether.

2. Defending Steph Curry is of course a bit like trying to slow a flood, but the Celtics could have built a better dam. He hit his first 3-pointer with two minutes left in the first quarter when the Celtics lost it in transition. The second was a step back 30ft over Sam Hauser as the quarter bell rang.

Next, Curry exploited the Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense. He raced around a screen near Looney and got in place as quickly as possible, dragging Malcolm Brogdon into a collision that gave the Warriors a four-point game. Just before halftime, the Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense again failed against Curry. At the start of the third, Smart latched onto a Looney screen and had to go under, and Curry buried another. Finally, he caught Jaylen Brown in the PnR and basically put the game aside late in the fourth.

Curry finished with 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting, while Klay Thompson had a game-high 34. Jordan Poole started in place of Wiggins and dropped 20. That’s a tough math to solve for a opponent.

3. Jaylen Brown tends to play well against the Warriors, and Saturday was no exception – he finished with 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting and kept them alive in the first half, with Malcolm Brogdon (16 points, 6 for -10 shooting). The Warriors couldn’t do much to contain Brown in the midrange or around the rim, but his midrange offense complements the Celtics’ failed 3-point shot (12 for 40, 30% ). The Celtics’ offensive rhythm was heavily disrupted by the Warriors’ defense, and few of Saturday’s 3-point attempts were preceded by the usual offensive energy and liveliness.

4. The Celtics were again without Al Horford (health and safety protocols), and Robert Williams did not make his debut. As a result, the Warriors rebounded 25% from their misses and had one of the most effective nights on second-chance opportunities this season.

The Warriors also beat the Celtics 19-11 in transition, including punishing them with live rebounds. In other words, the Celtics lost Saturday’s game on offense and on the margins (offensive rebound and transition).

5. Grant Williams was ejected from Saturday’s game for throwing a basketball into the stands in the last two minutes of the game. The Warriors had just taken a 17-point lead and they called time out to replace their starters. A Warriors player fired a shot after the whistle ricocheted off Williams. He hit him with discouragement, but without much enthusiasm.

Unfortunately for Williams, hitting the ball in the stands is an automatic ejection, and Scott Foster sent him off immediately.

“I didn’t know that,” Williams could be seen saying to Foster, who patted Williams sympathetically on the back but led him on the way to the locker room.

6. The Celtics couldn’t ease the pain of losing the Finals with a victory in December. The regular season is very long, and the Celtics hope their run in the playoffs will be very long as well.

Of course, players would be excused if Saturday’s game meant little more than, say, Friday’s showdown against the Magic next week. But the Celtics have been very clear about their ultimate goal this season: to win a title. It’s a different (and probably healthier) mentality than feeling compelled to avenge a loss to last year’s opponent.

Also, never expect a player to admit that a loss meant more than a game.

“Tonight was probably more meaningful to you than to us,” Tatum said. “It was a game. We certainly want to win every game we play, but it’s hard. We never want to lose, and we played well, and losing this one – especially the way we played – was a been tough. But that’s not going to dictate our season. …

“It all depends on how we react. Whether we came here and won depends on how we react on Monday, and that’s the truth. It’s over, and now we’re going to Los Angeles to play the Clippers.

The Celtics play the Clippers at 10:30 p.m. EST.

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