SAN FRANCISCO — Jayson Tatum and the Celtics carried their NBA Finals loss to the Warriors with them through their 21-5 start. They saw the way the Warriors and the other tough defenses on their playoff push challenged them, took them out of their game, and eased into this year by preying on any lackadaisical regular season units with pace, movement and decisive ball movement.
That changed Saturday, when the Celtics’ offense fell apart as Golden State ran them off the three-point line, rotated inside with help to cut off the paint and forced difficult decisions on Boston’s facilitators. Joe Mazzulla took credit for the 123-107 letdown, saying the Celtics hadn’t seen a defense like the Warriors’.Tatum also placed blame on himself, shooting 6-for-21 with 18 points, two assists and two turnovers in an uncomfortable showing reminiscent of the series these two teams played six months ago.
“(Tatum) doesn’t have to do anything better. We have to be better, staff has to be better, I have to be better. We’ve got to put him in better spots in certain moments of the game, feel the game and get him to a spot where he can make a play for our team,” Mazzulla said. “I thought (the Warriors) were physical, I thought their pick-up points were really high. I thought they did a good job on off-ball screens, taking away our speed, and I thought they helped at the rim. (The Warriors) were physical at the rim.”
Something looked wrong when Klay Thompson knocked the ball away from Tatum on the first possession. Then, Thompson recovered to stuff Tatum off glass after getting beat on a cut. Thompson scored 34 points on 14-for-26 shooting in a resilient effort where he played with a different level of aggression and accuracy compared to his start to the year, and said he embraced the change to guard Tatum and Brown
Marcus Smart took over the offense attacking Steph Curry and Jordan Poole while Tatum fell to 1-for-6 and fouled twice through the midway point of the first quarter. The Warriors’ screening activity freed Thompson for good looks going downhill toward the rim, but Boston forced Golden State to miss nine of its first tries from three. The Celtics led 13-12, but melted down into their second unit as the Warriors moved inside the arc.
Thompson scored a pair of put backs, then cut inside for two more points. Draymond Green added two more beating the Celtics’ back line, and Tatum got frustrated with Luke Kornet’s coverage as he arrived late to contest a Curry three.
The Warriors star drove right back Sam Hauser for two points before capping the quarter with a pull-up bomb from deep over his head, and the Warriors went ahead 33-25 into the second. They started checking off Celtics they could render unplayable, and Mazzulla with Blake Griffin and Kornet limited defensively.
Golden State led by 10 points early in the new frame as Poole scored a three-point play by turning a pick-and-pop play with Jonathan Kuminga into a handoff that drew contact from Derrick White as Poole hit a floater. Malcolm Brodgon kept the Celtics within eight points by hitting a pair of shots in the lane, and he finished with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting, but the Warriors movement continued to baffle Boston. Their defense prevented the Celtics from connecting.
Thompson hit a three over a late-arriving Grant before finishing inside later in the quarter. Tatum, meanwhile, took several minutes to find the ball and nearly half of the second quarter to attempt a shot, stealing a Curry pass and finishing an alley-oop from Brown on the break. Brown and Brogdon steadied the offense with sharp shooting, and Griffin attacked the paint to get Boston into the bonus with five minutes to play.
Curry caught Brogdon around a screen and converted a four-point play. Looney turned a shot roll into a handoff to Thompson for two, and the Warriors led by 10 again. Tatum closed the gap and settled himself with a downhill finish through Anthony Lamb and alley-oop to Brown before Smart cut off a Thompson pass to stay within five at halftime by feeding Brown for two more. Brown scored 31 points on 13-for-23 shooting to keep Boston close.
“They’re the No. 1 shooting team in the league from three, 40%, so you have to get out there and challenge, you can’t let them set your feet,” Steve Kerr said. “I thought they missed some that they would normally make, it wasn’t all us, but our guys did a good job of playing with a lot of energy and trying to challenge. Then, pulling behind the play, that’s the real challenge against them, you still have to help. If you run them off the three-point line, you’ve got to bring help, and then you’ve got to get back to three-point shooters after they move the ball. We did a pretty good job of keeping them from getting into a good rhythm.”
Tatum led a steady offensive run to within four points with three free throws and a driving finish past Looney. Then, Smart went under a screen to give up three to Curry, catching Mazzulla’s ire along the sideline. Brown traveled after he pulled the Celtics pulled within three points, Grant catching a break on an out-of-bounds call, but the Celtics couldn’t take advantage. Thompson and Poole ran on the break for wide open flushes after Brown and Smart missed consecutive threes. Smart threw his hands up in frustration, without an answer for the chaos.
The Warriors led by 10 again. Tatum missed a layup attempt leaning away from the rim. Donte DiVincenzo buried a three on the break, dropped off a pass to Kuminga behind the defense. Tatum and Hauser’s wild passes in transition nearly bounced away, landing in Brogdon’s hands for a brief pause, but Tatum threw a pass into the crowd on the final possession of the third after swatting away DiVincenzo’s arm. The Celtics trailed, 95-83.
Boston grew more rattled into the fourth, searching for effective by bringing Payton Pritchard into the game and moving Tatum to center. Poole beat Brogdon and Kuminga bodied Brogdon by driving toward to the rim to push the Warriors ahead by 17 points.
“(We were looking for) speed, spacing, looked to switch a little bit more,” Mazzulla said. “We’ll add up the point total and see what hurt us, but just watching the game, our half court defense was decent. It was the transition, the leak-outs, the offensive rebounds and the cuts. So that team really tests your discipline, to know exactly what you’re going to take away and what you’re going to live with, and we just, for whatever reason, tonight we weren’t detailed in that.”
White hit the side of the backboard on a three-point attempt. Grant passed from open space in the corner into a Brown isolation where he lost the ball against Poole. Tatum nearly fumbled battling Poole, then did as once he tumbled into Green and helped him to his feet.
Golden State grew erratic in the other direction though, botching 4-of-5 possessions as the Warriors grew irate about a no-call on Brown’s up-fake against Curry that turned into a made jumper as part of an 11-2 run to within 105-97.
Tatum, trying to extend the run to 15-4 after White hit a pair of free throws, stepped to the line and missed two of his own. Looney threw down a put back slam and stuffed Smart after Kerr inserted him for some energy. Moments later, Curry pulled up and landed a three around a Green screen.
Tatum, going to the basket one more time down by 15, missed and fell to the floor.
“It’s 27 games, 24 of them have been great, and two or three off nights,” he said. “I’ve just got to be better, I missed a lot of layups, I missed some open threes, things like that. There’s nobody to blame but myself. I’ve got to be better to help the team win.”