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The Golden State Warriors struggled again in Game 3 and find themselves in an NBA Finals hole that may be even deeper than it looks. They’ve only been outscored by a total of nine points across the series but they’ve struggled mightily in the fourth quarter and have looked off-balance at both ends of the court.
With a pivotal Game 4 looming, here are some adjustments they need to focus on.
Get Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole cooking
Thompson had a much better performance in Game 3 but for the series, he and Poole have still combined for 15 total assists to 12 turnovers and just 29 points per game on a 46.8 effective field goal percentage. This Celtics defense is the best and most connected defense the Warriors have faced in the playoffs and Klay and Poole have been defended primarily by Jaylen Brown and Derrick White, two excellent perimeter defenders. But the Warriors need to find some creative ways to get the ball in Poole’s hands, in particular, and give him chances to create.
Poole didn’t have a single unassisted 2-point basket in the first two games of the series and finished Game 3 with just two. Plays like this, where Curry’s gravity draws extra defenders and creates driving lanes against a bent defense were hugely important in the earlier rounds of the playoffs.
Boston has been able to avoid losing their defensive shape because of Curry’s gravity but Golden State needs to be ready to exploit these kinds of opportunities when they arise. There’s been a stark difference between the Warriors’ ability to attack and move the defense and the Celtics, who are averaging nearly 13 more drives per game. This brings us to the next point…
Solving the Celtics’ dribble penetration
Boston’s offense hasn’t been overwhelming with complexity but their execution has been precise and they’ve been ahead of the Warriors’ defense at almost every step. Their dribble penetration has set up a cascade of actions and Boston has leveraged their advantage at each step.
So far in the NBA Finals, the Celtics have averaged 51.7 drives per game, about six more than they averaged during the regular season and a mark that would have ranked fifth in the league across the entire season. Their shooting percentage on those drives hasn’t been exceptional but it’s been strong and they’ve been particularly good at turning those drives into open shots at the perimeter.
So far in the NBA Finals, the Celtics have averaged 6.7 assists per game off drives and recorded an assist on 12.9 percent of their assists, both of which would have led the league during the regular season. And as the Warriors have struggled to catch up to these initial breakdowns, rotating out to suddenly open perimeter shooters, the Celtics have been able to slip behind the defense for a ton of offensive rebounds. The Celtics have missed 64 3-pointers across the first three games but have grabbed an offensive rebound on 12 of them.
Dan Devine explained this dynamic in his game recap at The Ringer, along with some excellent video if you want to see it in real-time:
"When the Warriors defense stayed home on Boston’s spaced-out shooters, the driver got a free run all the way to the rim. When Golden State showed more aggressive help in the driving lanes, the C’s were ready to sling the pass ahead of the rotation and either fire a catch-and-shoot triple or drive past a closeout for another foray into the paint, keeping the machine humming and the Warriors on their heels time and time again:"
The solution here is complicated because the Warriors defense has to be better at every step — containing dribble penetration, recovering to shooters and finding free rebounders when the shot goes up.
Warriors need to tighten up in the fourth quarter
Through three games the Warriors have been outscored by an astronomical 59.5 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter. That number is somewhat inflated by the difference in shooting on open and wide-open 3-pointers — 10-of-24 across all three fourth quarters for the Celtics, 4-of-18 for the Warriors. Progression (and regression) to the mean on those shooting numbers will help balance things out but a failure to make the adjustments above has been magnified in the fourth quarter and with their opportunities to win three more games shrinking the Warriors can’t afford to let a close game slip away.
Other NBA stories:
The Warriors set a physical tone in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, but the Boston Celtics raised the bar in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
Read Mirin Fader on the Derrick White trade, the mid-season move that may have saved the Boston Celtics.
Draymond Green likes living on the edge. That means sometimes you fall.