BOSTON — Ahead of the start of the NBA Finals, there was much talk of how the Warriors would overcome the Celtics’ top-tier defense. But now it’s the Celtics who need to find an answer to the Warriors’ impressive defense.
Golden State’s strategy is simple, even if the execution is complex: forcing Boston to flip the ball. A lot of.
That’s a common thread running through all three of the Warriors’ wins to date — and could be a focus in a potential clincher in Game 6 at TD Garden on Thursday. When the Warriors win, Boston commits an eye-popping number of turnovers. The Celtics had 18 in Game 2, 15 in Game 4, and 18 in Game 5. Golden State kept Boston under 100 points in all three games.
Boston has managed to keep turnovers under control in its two wins, recording 12 each in Game 1 and Game 3. But the Warriors would say the low turnover number was a sign they were failing at their defensive job to have. After their loss in Game 3, in which Draymond Green said he played “like s—,” Green said they needed to match Boston’s physicality in attack on defense.
“They can’t just bust us and get the paint, and of course that starts with me,” Green said on his podcast after the Game 3 loss in Boston.
The Warriors answered the call for physicality, switching defensively in Games 4 and 5, with Andrew Wiggins chasing Jayson Tatum and Klay Thompson and disrupting dribbling drives from the periphery. Gary Payton II is arguably the Warriors’ best point-of-attack defenseman, as he can stand up to any Celtic and cut through lanes and passing lanes with his quick feet and hands.
And then there’s Steph Curry, who single-handedly handled Boston’s relentless offensive attack on him with a strong defense.
Individually, the Warriors played more physical defense deeper in the series, allowing them to collectively close lanes for Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Boston didn’t play well in the crowd – often falling into their shot attempts or throwing bad passes.
“I think if your defense is good at the point of attack, your auxiliary defense can be there,” Green said. “There’s no one who can stop Jayson Tatum, there’s no one who can stop Jaylen Brown. At times in this series there was no one to stop Marcus Smart, but using force at the point of attack allows your help to react where it is needed.”
The Celtics are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have a real point guard. Smart plays the role, but he is exploitable as a playmaker. After not turning the ball once in Game 1, the Warriors have forced Smart to 16 turnovers in their last four games.
Tatum is averaging nearly four turnovers per game and shooting 37.3% from the field — a far cry from his 45.3% during the regular season — because Golden State is forcing his hand. Strong 3-point shooting on kickouts has fueled most of Boston’s big offensive runs. The Warriors bet those runs won’t always come.
In these playoffs, the Celtics are averaging 16.3 turnovers per loss and are 1-7 when they commit 16 or more turnovers in a playoff game and 13-2 when they come out below that number.
The Warriors, who have had turnover problems of their own over the years, committed just 64 turnovers in these Finals compared to Boston’s 75. That includes just seven Golden State turnovers in Game 5.
If the Warriors win Thursday night’s revenue battle again by double digits, chances are they won’t need a seventh game to secure another title.