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Previewing the remaining games of the NBA Finals

Steph Curry had the game of his life on Friday night, but there’s still a long way for both teams to go in order for a champion to be crowned.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Look at Steph Curry, man, so inspirational.

The two-time MVP played what might've been the best game of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Steph showed us once again why he’s arguably the greatest offensive weapon in league history by dropping a cool 43/10/4 on 54/50/89 splits.

But with things locked up at 2-2 and both teams needing to win two more games before a champion can be crowned, there’s still a long way to go in the series, so let’s look at some adjustments that might be made moving forward.

Adjustments for Boston

The main bellwether coming into this series was the number of turnovers that the Celtics would commit per game. This postseason, Boston is 13-2 when they turn it over 14 or fewer times, and 1-6 when they throw the ball away 15 or more times.

And guess what? They committed 15 turnovers on Friday night and lost. Sometimes, basketball can be that simple.

With that said, the Warriors actually had 16 turnovers and only outscored Boston by two (19-17) in points off turnovers, so that surprisingly didn’t play a major factor in the game.

What did, though, was the Celtics’ stagnant offense down the stretch. They stopped moving the ball around and went back to playing iso, which Golden State had an easy time containing.

It’s important to note that iso-ball isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Brown and Tatum have both successfully attacked various Warrior one on one. Rather, the issue surfaces when they abandon their game plan and dribble around aimlessly before hoisting a tough contested jumper at the end of the shot clock, which happened during crunch time of game 4.

No one would confuse Boston’s attack with the Warriors’ Beautiful Game-esque system, but they need to get back to the sets that were run at the beginning of the game (like the one below) if they want any chance of consistently scoring in the half-court.

The Celtics also need to be more cognizant of which Warrior to hunt on defense. Tatum and Brown shot 1-4 on Bjelica with three turnovers and went 3-4 against Poole and Steph. It’s a small sample size, but Bjelica is a sneakily competent defender who, at the very least, holds up much better than Poole. Meanwhile, Steph has turned into an above-average defender — for a guard — but the Celtics should still try to tire him out, so they need to do a better job of hunting the two guards more instead of Bjelica.

Defensively, Boston has been smothering: game 2 was the only time this series when the Warriors had an offensive rating in the half-court that was over 95. But with Steph going supernova, there are still things that the Celtics can do to improve in their own end.

There was some talk early in the series about Boston’s bigs dropping too far on pick and rolls involving Steph, which has largely been corrected since they now come all the way to the three-point line. Remember, though, that this is Steph freaking Curry we’re talking about, so contesting him at the arc still isn’t enough when he’s making shots like this.

A potential solution is to just trap him and force the ball out of his hands. Sure, the Warriors would be playing 4 on 3 then, but I’d take that over Steph playing the game like it’s NBA2K on rookie mode.

The main recipient of those passes would likely be Draymond as well, whose backpack is looking real heavy these days and can basically be left unguarded. Golden State doesn’t have any pinpoint shooters outside of Steph, Klay, and Poole either, so the Celtics could probably play a mini-zone in those odd-man situations and have some success with it.

Boston did trap Steph on one of the final possessions of the game and get scored on, but again, I think they would rather concede those chances than Steph shooting from literally anywhere, especially if they have time to make a game plan and practice executing it.

If the Celtics do decide to trap Steph more, they’ll still need to stick to him off-ball — or else he’ll teleport for an open three.

Steph’s shooting is otherworldly (duh) but his movement is what makes him so special, and Boston can’t let their efforts go to waste by losing him for even a split second.

Adjustments for Golden State

Pat Bev Draymond trick y’all, man... he just running around, doing nothing.”

Seriously, what the heck’s up with Draymond? The most helpful thing that Golden State can do is to somehow change the remaining schedule of games without telling him so that he’s busy podcasting at home instead of playing.

On that note, I think Steve Kerr already made the big adjustment, which was to play Looney more and sit Draymond. In game 3, Boston killed the Warriors on the glass by outrebounding them 47-31. The Celtics had 15 offensive boards that led to 22 second-chance points, as opposed to six and 11 for Golden State, respectively. Looney grabbed half of those offensive rebounds, and it wasn’t a coincidence that the Warriors struggled so much on the glass considering he played less than 17 minutes.

Game 4 was an entirely different story. Golden State outrebounded the Celtics 55-42 while outscoring them 19-12 in second-chance points. They grabbed 16 offensive boards to Boston’s 11, with Draymond and Looney combining for nine. Looney also played over 28 minutes, and that will likely continue in the remaining games.

All this talk about rebounding is important, but the Warriors’ chances still hinge on how Steph plays. If Boston does choose to trap him more, then it’ll be up to Golden State’s secondary options to hit shots. Kerr has leaned aggressively into running Steph pick and rolls with a big, and if that’s taken away, he’ll need to run more screening actions and pindowns to free up Klay and others for open shots.

Speaking of Klay, he still exerts massive offensive value due to his gravity, even if he isn’t the same player he once was.

Assuming Steph has the ball less, the Warriors should consider running some two-man action between Draymond and Klay/Poole, similar to what the Heat used to do for Bam and Robinson. Those plays have never been Golden State’s bread and butter since they prefer to get everyone involved, but given that Kerr has already overhauled their motion offense in favour of pick and rolls, it’s something worth considering at the very least.

Draymond should also just stop shooting. Period. I know he wants to be aggressive, but no one is respecting him, and his shots don’t go in regardless if it’s contested or not. At this point, he’s just wasting offensive possessions and giving viewers PTSD from watching him brick everything, so it’s time to focus on distributing and grabbing rebounds instead.

On defense, Golden State has put on an admirable Jekyll and Hyde impression. They limited the Celtics’ half-court offensive rating to 84.3 and 77.1 in games two and four, but also gave up 114.1 in games one and three, respectively.

Given the discrepancy of points allowed by the Warriors during these games, it’s a bit surprising that their defensive scheme hasn’t changed drastically. I haven’t noticed much rhyme or reason that has caused these wildly different results considering that they’ve largely used similar strategies between wins and losses.

For example, Golden State has gone to their classic 1-2-2 zone for multiple possessions in each match except for game 2, when I remember seeing it just once. Draymond has also been the primary defender on Brown for the past three games and has held him to 7-21 shooting, with game 3 being the only time when Brown got the better of that matchup.

The lack of major adjustments from the Warriors suggests that Boston is the team that’s more in control of their destiny. Yes, their game 1 win was largely buoyed by unsustainable shooting and game 2 ended in a blowout loss, but the Celtics’ execution (and lack thereof) in their two home games played a bigger factor in the end result than anything that Golden State did.

Still, there are certain things that the Warriors can do to give them the best chance of shutting down Boston’s attack. For starters, Looney needs to continue playing big minutes to provide them with reliable rebounding and rim protection. And even though Draymond has largely gotten the better of his matchup against Brown, I think Kerr should consider turning him back into a defensive roamer, especially since Klay did a good job of shutting down the Celtic wing in the final quarter of game 4.

Having Draymond guard off-ball allows him to focus on quarterbacking Golden State’s defense, which is what he’s best at. It also lets the Warriors lean on Wiggins and Klay to guard Boston’s two stars instead of Gary Payton II and Draymond, which gives Kerr more lineup flexibility since the former duo aren’t offensive liabilities who can only be effective in specific matchups.

Most important question: will Time Lord’s injury force Boston to go small?

With four games in the books, it feels like both Kerr and Udoka have largely exhausted their tactical adjustments. However, if there’s one card left to play, it will likely come in the form of when they decide to downsize and go small.

I know, I know. I just made a big deal of the importance of size in the series, but that’s exactly why it’ll be fascinating to see when/if one or both teams choose to go small for better spacing and versatility.

Much of this hinges on the health of Robert Williams III, who I believe to be the biggest x-factor moving forward. Time Lord looked spry in the two recent games in Boston but appeared to re-aggravate his knee injury late in game 4, and if he’s hobbled once again, the Celtics are far less imposing defensively.

In the first two games of the series, the Celtics were -14 with both Horford and Williams playing, but they flipped that switch in games 3 and 4 by going +17 in Boston — which isn’t a coincidence considering Williams looked much closer to 100% during the Celtics’ two matches at home.

If Williams struggles again, he can be exploited on the perimeter and his effectiveness as a rim protector could wane significantly, which is where his immense value mostly lies. Will Boston pull the plug on him and rely mainly on Horford, then? The Celtics are currently +6 with the veteran centre as the lone big on the floor in 43 minutes, but if Steph continues to hunt him in pick and rolls and becomes more comfortable with doing so, I’m not sure how feasible such lineups can be — especially if Horford’s constantly pulled out on to the perimeter and unable to fight for rebounds.

Assuming Boston does lean more on playing a single big, Golden State can then take advantage by having just one of Draymond and Looney on the floor at once, which will help their spacing immensely and spread the floor out on offense. Again, all of these hypotheticals hinge on the health of Time Lord, who has played incredibly in the playoffs given his injury woes.

Final prediction

Before the finals, I predicted the Warriors to win in 7 since it felt like Boston was more banged up. Like I mentioned above, though, the Celtics seem to be much more in control of their destiny through four games, and Golden State won’t be able to hang around if Steph doesn’t continue going supernova.

That’s entirely possible, of course, as Steph’s well on his way to becoming the third greatest guard in NBA history. However, Boston’s lineup versatility feels like it’ll be too much for the Warriors to handle.

Final prediction: Celtics in six

Finals MVP (if Golden State wins): Steph Curry

Finals MVP (if Boston wins): Draymond Green Jaylen Brown

The biggest question, though, is whether or not Tatum will have the cojones to text Kobe again. I wonder what he’ll say this time?

As always, thanks for reading everyone! This week, please check out my friend Lee Dresie’s article on why Draymond is the x-factor of the finals. I personally think it’s Time Lord, but he makes a convincing argument nonetheless.

Enjoy the rest of the NBA finals!