Draymond Green entered Game 2 of the NBA Finals wanting to play something other than basketball, and the Boston Celtics obliged, losing themselves among a bevy of controversial calls and careless turnovers.
The Golden State Warriors forward bodied Jayson Tatum, wrestled Grant Williams, baited Jaylen Brown and mauled Al Horford. Green was nearly ejected in the final minute before halftime. Instead of responding with aggression around the basket, Boston laid down in an embarrassing third-quarter effort and a 107-88 loss.
“They raised their [intensity], and we were looking around expecting for somebody to bail us out, and on their home floor that’s not going to happen,” Brown said. “We’ve got to raise ours and really no excuses.”
Green forced a jump ball on the game’s first possession, setting the tone defensively for his Warriors, and then went about dragging the Celtics into the mud. He earned his first technical foul minutes into his night, when after tackling Williams (and somehow drawing a foul), he would not stop shoving the Celtics forward.
The ensuing free throw gave the Celtics a 19-13 lead they stretched to nine, but their seven turnovers and eight fouls led to a 31-30 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Brown scored 13 of Boston’s first 22 points but picked up his second foul on what he called “a phantom call” eight minutes into the game. He was not the same after sitting the remainder of the first quarter, scoring only four more points on 1-for-11 shooting.
“I don’t feel like I touched Gary Payton and I expressed that, but they called the foul on me,” said Brown, who was the hero in Boston’s Game 1 comeback win. “That sat me down. Can’t let that be the reason why in the second half I wasn’t able to be as effective, but definitely changed the game with that phantom call.”
The score swung five points in either team’s direction in the second quarter and settled on Golden State’s 52-50 halftime lead. But not before Green fouled Brown, rested his legs on Brown’s head, shoved him and pulled on his shorts when Brown rose to his feet. An official review determined it was not worth an ejection.
“I’ve earned differential treatment, and I enjoy that and I embrace that,” Green conceded live on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” after the victory, all but confirming what former NBA referee Steve Javie said during the broadcast — that the officiating crew should consider his first technical foul when determining the second.
“I feel like that was an illegal play,” Brown responded. “I feel like they could have called it, but they let it go in terms of a technical either way. But I don’t know what I was supposed to do there. Somebody has got his legs on the top of your head, and then he tried to pull my pants down. I don’t know what that was about.
“That’s what Draymond Green does. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’ll pull you, he’ll grab you, he’ll try to muck the game up, because that’s what he does for their team. It’s nothing to be surprised about. Nothing I’m surprised about. He raised his physicality to try to stop us, and we’ve got to raise ours.”
Rather than answer the bell, Boston folded after the break. As the Warriors pushed their lead to 67-56 midway through the third quarter, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka tried inspiring his team by soliciting a technical foul. The absence of a whistle when Green swiped at Brown was his final straw with the game’s officiating.
“I just let them know how I felt throughout the game in a demonstrative way on purpose to get a technical,” said Udoka, who cited his team’s carelessness with the ball and unwillingness to move it as the difference.
“I could see that coming a mile away,” Horford said of Udoka’s technical. “Just that whole first half, it was definitely different. We knew it was going to be different, but we kind of wanted to just stay the course.”
The Celtics hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Golden State’s lead to 68-62. On their next possession, Horford had Stephen Curry posted up 3 feet from the basket and chose not to attack the rim, dumping the ball into traffic. Never was Boston’s absence of force more evident. The floodgates opened after that, as the Warriors closed the final 4:17 of the third quarter on a 19-2 run, capped by Jordan Poole’s 39-footer.
Plain and simple: The Celtics let Green and the referees get to their heads.
“Of course he’s going to come out and try to set the tone,” said Udoka, “but we weren’t strong with the ball a lot, searching for fouls instead of going up and making plays, especially with their lack of rim protection.”
“I just kind of felt like we weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt when we were trying to play with that physicality,” bemoaned Tatum, who scored a team-high 28 points but managed one basket after halftime.
Golden State extended its lead to 29 a minute into the fourth quarter, and Udoka pulled his starters. When all was said and done, the Warriors scored 33 points off Boston’s 19 turnovers — most of them unforced — and the Celtics found just six shots at the rim and finished a dismal 7 for 29 (24 FG%) from 5-19 feet.
None of it was what Boston expects from the Celtics, who looked closer to the version that malfunctioned for a few six-minute stretches of the Eastern Conference finals than the team that has been the NBA’s most physical throughout the playoffs. This is what happens when you let Green dictate the rules of engagement.
“Important for me to come out that way on that side,” he said. “I have to continue to do that in this series. It’s not going to get any easier. It’s only going to get tougher. Have to take that up another couple notches.”
What that looks like in Game 3 will be striking, to say the least, but Boston cannot afford to play his game.
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