For three quarters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — not Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — were the best players on the court.
But in the fourth quarter, the Splash Bros ceded to the Jays. Tatum, who played 48 minutes, delivered tough shot-making despite a slew of costly turnovers. Brown, who labored through his first game back from an abductor strain, sank the game-tying 3 to send the game into overtime.
Curry went 1-for-8 with two turnovers in the fourth and Thompson sat for most of the frame with five fouls.
Then in overtime, Tatum and Brown led a surge enough to overcome a frenetic final 35 seconds. The Warriors’ duo outscored Boston’s 54 to 50, but the younger pair had more left to provide late.
Boston dominated the glass — 63 to 47 — to stay competitive despite a dreadful shooting night from at the rim, behind the arc, and the foul line. A Warriors lineup tweak reminiscent of their Finals strategy didn’t produce immediate results.
In a game both teams treated like a playoff game, the Warriors didn’t have enough to stave off the Celtics. Golden State (22-23) took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold off an intense push from the Celtics, or cause enough chaos at the end of overtime to mount a miracle comeback in a 121-118 defeat.
Here are three takeaways from the Warriors’ overtime loss that splits the season series with Boston.
A surprise starting lineup tweak
The Warriors’ starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney is the most effective five-man lineup, per net rating, in the NBA.
Steve Kerr decided to depart from it in Boston.
Like the Warriors did during last year’s Finals, GSW downsized by replacing Looney’s size with Jordan Poole’s playmaking.
The Celtics are one of the few teams who also start two traditional big men, with Robert Williams III and Al Horford. Kerr tried to counter their size by forcing Horford and Williams to guard in space while hoping they wouldn’t get punished on the glass and inside on the other end.
Kerr’s plan didn’t backfire completely, but the Celtics won the opening minutes. Horford scored over Wiggins twice in the post with the size mismatch and added a putback layup. He also stayed in front of Thompson in transition, proving he’s still quick enough to compete on the perimeter.
What the change does is move Looney to the second unit full-time. For all 48 minutes, either Green or Looney anchor GSW’s defense. That’s typically the case in serious games anyways, but staggering their minutes might keep them each fresher.
Looney and Williams battled for rebounds, with each having their way on the offensive glass but struggling to finish off possessions.
To start the second half, Kerr went back with the downshifted lineup with Green at center. If he didn’t revert back to the traditional five after halftime, perhaps that suggests this lineup change will stick going forward.
A struggle for the Jays
Even though his basic stats are gaudy, the Warriors did a terrific job against Jayson Tatum — as they consistently have.
Tatum, averaging a career-best 31.1 points per game this year, hasn’t been able to get going against Golden State — spanning back to last summer’s Finals.
In the Finals, Tatum averaged 21.5 points per game on 36.7% shooting from the field. He turned the ball over frequently as the Warriors sent two defenders at him and put him in uncomfortable spots.
And in their first matchup this year, Tatum went 6-for-21 with just 18 points. Andrew Wiggins can match him size and athleticism-wise, but GSW’s key is their ability to switch defenders onto him and reduce his driving lanes in the pick-and-roll.
Tatum needed 27 field goal attempts to record 34 points. He went 4-for-13 from deep and committed seven turnovers, one of which led directly to an absolutely sick Curry buzzer-beater.
Brown, meanwhile, couldn’t get going in his first game back from injury but managed 16 points on 18 shots. The Warriors successfully forced him to his left and attacked his loose handle with targeted swipes.
Tatum and Brown are the highest scoring duo in the league, averaging 58 points per game. The Warriors held them well below that and to inefficient shooting.
One note: the Celtics frequently run the similar dribble handoff action the Warriors do. They should take notes from how Green and Looney work with their handoff partners. So often, the Warriors blew up handoffs because either Tatum or Brown were stationary instead of carrying momentum into the exchange.
It doesn’t get much easier from here
Before Warriors-Celtics Round 2, Golden State had played the ninth softest schedule in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.
For much of the season, though, the Warriors have played down to the level of their opponents. Their play has brought reasonable questions about their game-to-game intensity level.
The Celtics game is the first leg of a back-to-back on the road, as the Warriors will now travel to Cleveland. The Cavaliers, currently fifth in the eastern conference, are humming with a nucleus of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Mitchell, listed as questionable for Friday’s contest with a groin injury, is averaging a career-high 28.4 points per game.
For the one-game stop in Cleveland, the Warriors will likely be without Klay Thompson, who hasn’t played complete back-to-backs this year.
Then after the Cavs, the Warriors are set to host the 27-16 Brooklyn Nets, who even without Kevin Durant (knee) should have formidable talent.
This was the final matchup against Boston — until possibly a Finals rematch — so at least GSW doesn’t have to see the NBA-best Celtics again.