‘We’d be 3-1, at least, right now’: Celtics understand missed opportunity vs. Warriors but remain confident

"We know what it takes. We know what we have to do."

Celtics Warriors
Jayson Tatum bounces the ball in frustration as the Warriors beat the Celtics in Game 4. Photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Celtics were tied 2-2 against the Bucks, and they won. They were tied 2-2 against the Heat, and they won (although Jimmy Butler made them sweat profusely). Throughout these playoffs, they’ve learned a lot about themselves — their tendency to choose the hardest possible path, and their ability to finish the job anyway. They know they can win Game 5 against the Warriors on Monday, and if they don’t, they know they can win Game 6 back in Boston.

“We know what it takes. We know what we have to do,” Jayson Tatum said on Sunday. “Attention to detail and things like that. I’m confident like I have been all playoffs, confident in the fact that we’ll respond and play better for the majority of the game tomorrow.”


Still, Ime Udoka couldn’t help but express some frustration with his team’s tendency to blow opportunities and then come roaring back rather than simply roaring ahead unimpeded. Asked about Steph Curry’s otherworldly offensive performance in the first four games of the series, Udoka praised Curry for having “a successful series offensively” — a typical Udoka answer that avoids overpraising the opposing team’s star.

After all, as Udoka put it: “If we are playing offense the right way, we’d be 3-1, at least, right now.”

Offense seemed to be a talking point for the Celtics.

“Offense is going to determine, I feel like, the rest of the series for us in a sense,” Grant Williams said. “If we control and do what we’re supposed to do, we have success.”

After Game 4, Tatum — with a wry smile — reminded a reporter that the Celtics “don’t do this s— on purpose, I promise” and to his credit, the Celtics are still undefeated after a loss in the postseason. If they keep that streak alive indefinitely, they will win the Finals.

So what will it take to tie the series? The Celtics offered a few hints after practice on Sunday.

Stop searching for fouls

The Warriors have done well defending Tatum without fouling, and a common thread in both Games 2 and 4 — the two losses — was Tatum’s admirable-but-thwarted determination to get to the free-throw line. When Tatum goes up and doesn’t get the call, he often turns the ball over or misses in a way that essentially equates a turnover.


Tatum said it’s important to play with more force.

“I think one thing I noticed is playing on two feet a lot more,” Tatum said. “Like Coach said, playing off one foot and trying to look for fouls has not been working in my favor as much. I think playing off two feet, attacking angles, instead of trying to initiate the contact and things like that.”

Udoka added that Tatum has missed some layups he usually makes, especially given the Warriors’ lack of rim protection.

“When he gets a cross match, to pop the space or roll in the pocket and try to get an advantage as far as that,” Udoka said. “Some of the isolations, elbow, things we have done for him, they are really loading up. And even with that, he has to invite that and get guys other shots. More spacing. Then playing at the nail and elbow area in the series.

“For him, the numbers — I think, over-penetrating at times. But he has done a good job of mixing that and drawing the crowd, which is there every time, and finding a shooter.”

Limit Steph Curry’s ‘out of touch’ 3-pointers

When the Celtics maintain their space and contest Curry, they have been relatively successful against him (at least, by Curry’s incredibly lofty standards).


“I think he was 3-for-6 [or] 3-for-8 last game from the touch, which isn’t terrible, but he is getting some looks up,” Udoka said. “The thing he does well obviously is once he gets off the ball, the movement, that’s different. Doesn’t just stop. And they all are hunting shots for him, as you saw when we switched a little bit.

“We can mix it up there, being more physical, make some unders on him when he’s that high. We have been good as far as that. But the fact that he’s such a willing and good playmaker I think makes it tougher to go after him, as opposed to other guys who don’t want to get off the ball. He finds the guys in the pocket. Obviously, that’s when Draymond is at his best, making plays for others.”

On a related note:


Guarding Curry isn’t easy, but the Celtics can make it a little more palatable by maintaining their mental energy throughout the game.

“The word of the day? Focus,” Jaylen Brown said. “I think focus is something that, for us, has differed from game to game. It’s almost human nature when our backs are against the wall a little bit, we play with more focus and intensity and determination. And sometimes when we’re not, we’re a little too comfortable. I would like our focus to be intense, and I would like our focus to be at a high level coming into Game 5.”

Sometimes, basketball is simple.

“Don’t get tired of doing what works,” Robert Williams added.

Find ways to utilize Jaylen Brown

The Warriors made a smart adjustment when they put Draymond Green on Brown, limiting Brown while trusting their swarm of defenders to do a good job against Tatum.


Still, there should be a lot of ways to take advantage, even against a high-IQ defense like the Warriors.

“Putting Green on him on the perimeter a little bit I think takes Green out of his comfort zone, and he’s one of their best help defenders,” Udoka said. “He’s had some advantages there, where they don’t like to switch off ball.”

Win the rebounding battle

Especially against a team like the Warriors, offensive rebounds are a killer — stopping their well-oiled machine is a boost, but giving them a second chance is deflating.

“They’re killing us on the glass again,” Robert Williams said. “It’s a lot of emphasis we’re putting on a lot of different stuff. But mainly it’s physicality and execution.”

Schematically, getting out in transition is much easier after a miss. But for the Celtics, who are also prone to coughing up the ball, putting defensive possessions to rest after a miss is doubly important.

“I would say that I think it’s just a mindset of making sure that we take those points away,” Grant Williams said. “A lot of their points came down to transition, open opportunities, and then offensive rebounds. I think they had 16 offensive rebounds and I think we had 16 turnovers. So that’s 32 opportunities for them that we can take for ourselves.”

Embrace the moment

And finally, Brown believes a lot of “great basketball” lies ahead for the Celtics.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s the biggest stage in the world. I’ll take our group, our guys, versus anybody. So I’m looking forward to it.”


Game 5 tips off at 9 p.m. on Monday.


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