SAN FRANCISCO -- This is the most endearing Boston Celtics team since the Isaiah Thomas-led squad of a half decade ago. But, man, they don’t always make it very easy to love them.
The term "roller coaster" gets thrown around a lot in sports clichés. That said, the 2022 playoff Celtics ought be the cited example in any sports dictionary. You have to wait all day to get on the ride, you spend half of it screaming in terror, and then you get back in line to do it all again.
This particular roller coaster doesn’t have any brakes. It hasn’t since the start of May. The Celtics navigated every twist and turn possible during a pair of seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Finals. With a prime opportunity to put a stranglehold on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Celtics reverted to bad habits while enduring a rare ass-kicking in a 107-88 Game 2 loss at the Chase Center.
There were the usual "bad Celtics" hallmarks: turnovers (18 leading to 33 Warriors points) and a lack of ball movement. (The Celtics generated 24 assists on 30 makes, but that was down from 33 assists on 43 makes in Game 1). More concerning was how easily Boston wilted as Golden State ratcheted up the intensity and Draymond Green literally pantsed them on the floor.
A Celtics team that has been defined by resiliency too quickly becomes complacent. We should have known it was going to be a long night for Boston when Green mugged Al Horford nine seconds into the game and wrestled him to the floor to force a jump ball.
The tone was set at that point. The Celtics never matched it.
Golden State played with a different intensity, especially on the defensive end, and it all started with the emotional Green, who seemingly was laying on top of a Celtics player during every stoppage in play.
Spare us your gripes about the officials. Yes, Jaylen Brown’s second foul -- a “phantom” whistle as he would later term it -- certainly short-circuited his fast start. But the officials were not the ones throwing the ball away 11 times in the first half. It only felt like Stephen Curry turned every giveaway into a 3-pointer.
The Celtics have an annoying knack for being OK with kicking away opportunities while saving their best play for back-against-the-wall situations.
They dropped Game 1 in Boston against the Bucks and never had a series lead until winning Game 7. The Celtics stole Game 2 in Miami to wrestle away homecourt advantage, then promptly kicked it right back to the Heat by dropping Game 3 in Boston.
The Celtics should still feel decent about a 1-1 split out west and stealing a game on a court where the Warriors had been undefeated this postseason, but it only matters if they take care of business at TD Garden. Boston is an improbably bad 3-4 at home over the last two rounds.
We’ve long stressed that there are no style points in the playoffs, which is why it’s hard to quibble with the results so far. The Celtics haven’t always been pretty but they’ve found a way to win.
A little urgency could go a long way. A little Draymond-like swagger wouldn’t hurt, either.
"Somebody got their legs on the top of your head and then [Green] tried to pull my pants down,” said Brown. "I don't know what that was about.
"That's what Draymond Green does. He'll do whatever it takes to win. He'll pull you, he'll grab you, he'll try to muck the game up because that's what he does for their team.”
The Celtics talked extensively after Game 1 about needing to play better in the third quarters. The Warriors hung a 35-14 third quarter on Boston on Sunday night, essentially flipping the script on Boston’s offensive outburst in the fourth quarter of the first meeting.
The Celtics made one third-quarter charge, slicing the deficit to six with 4:32 to play in the frame. The Warriors ripped off a 19-2 run to close out the quarter, culminating with Jordan Poole’s logo 3-pointer that was higher in feet (39) than Boston's field goal percentage through three quarters (34.4).
Jayson Tatum, a plus/minus monster even in Boston’s bad days, was a career-worst minus-36 overall. It was also the worst individual game number in NBA Finals history.
After a loud Game 1 performance, Al Horford made only 1 of 4 shots. Brown seemed rattled after picking up his early second foul and missed 12 of his 17 shots overall. Marcus Smart struggled with his shot, too. Derrick White and Payton Pritchard both came back down to earth in Game 2.
Ime Udoka deployed his deep reserves for most of the fourth quarter as Boston made the score a tiny bit more respectable after the Warriors led by as much as 29.
What happens next? Good luck guessing.