2024 NBA Finals

NBA Finals Film Study: Celtics win Luka Doncic vs. Jayson Tatum matchups in Game 2

Jayson Tatum is finding various ways to win his matchup with Luka Doncic, who is struggling as a target of Boston's offense.

Where Jayson Tatum rose to the occasion when pressed on defense, Luka Doncic faded in Game 2.

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Luka Doncic led all scorers with 32 points in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, scoring much more efficiently than he did three nights earlier. Jayson Tatum, meanwhile shot just 6-for-22 and is now 12-for-38 (32%) in the series.

But there was a lot of Doncic vs. Tatum on both ends of the floor in Game 2, and overall, the Boston Celtics had the advantage in those situations, one reason they have a 2-0 lead as the series heads to Dallas for Game 3 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

One player’s numbers don’t matter much when the group works together to produce good shots. That’s what’s happening on the Celtics’ end of the floor, where there’s been a little more ball movement (300 passes per 24 minutes of possession) than there was through the first three rounds of the playoffs (293 per 100). On the other end, the Mavs have gone from 293 passes per 24 minutes of possession through the first three rounds to just 260 per 24 in the Finals.

Here are some more numbers and some film on how the Celtics won the Doncic-Tatum matchups in Game 2.

1. Tatum switches, keeps Doncic in check

Number to know: Tatum was the screener’s defender on 11 ball screens for Doncic in Game 2, up from just four in Game 1.

With Tatum primarily guarding the opposing bigs, Dallas used their forwards as screeners in Game 1, targeting Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. They were the screener’s defender on 26 of the 38 ball-screens set for Doncic.

If the bigs aren’t setting screens, they’re somewhere else on the floor and the Mavs’ spacing around Doncic’s attacks can be compromised. With Game 1 being one of the Mavs’ worst offensive performances of the season, they switched things up in Game 2, setting more screens with the bigs, which put Tatum in the action a lot more.

Ball screens for Luka Doncic, Finals

Screener defender Game 1 Game 2
Horford 15 5
Porzingis 11 11
Tatum 4 11
Others 8 8
TOTAL 38 35

via Second Spectrum tracking

Tatum mostly switched those screens, and the Mavs scored just four total points on 10 chances in which a ball screen for Doncic was set by the guy Tatum was defending. All four of those points — a Doncic floater over Tatum and a tough spin-back fadeaway — came in the first quarter, when Doncic also went 0-for-2 at the line after beating Tatum off the dribble and drawing a foul.

The Doncic-Tatum actions bore no fruit after that, even though, on a couple of occasions, the Mavs followed it with another screen by the guy Porzingis was defending. The Celtics weren’t giving up that switch, and Tatum was able to get a steal by trailing the screen with active hands:

Jayson Tatum steal from Luka Doncic

After another (sloppy) turnover three possessions later, the Mavs didn’t run any Doncic-Tatum actions in the final 16 minutes of Game 2.

2. Doncic’s defense under the spotlight

Number to know: In 88 games (regular season plus playoffs) before the Finals, Tatum’s high for drives was 17. He had 18 drives in Game 1 and a career-high 29 drives in Game 2.

This series has mostly been about the end of the floor where the Mavs have scored just a point per possession, their second-worst two-game stretch of offense this season. The only games in which they scored less efficiently were the last two games of the regular season, when Doncic and Kyrie Irving didn’t play.

But the Celtics wouldn’t be two games from a championship if they weren’t also having some success offensively. And a lot of that success has come with attacking Doncic.

Late in the second quarter, there was a four-possession sequence in which the Celtics scored 10 points, all by attacking Doncic. It turned a tie score into a five-point lead and allowed them to go into halftime with an advantage.

First, Holiday (being guarded by Doncic) faked a screen for Tatum, flared to the left side of the floor and drove by Doncic before he could recover:

Jrue Holiday drive

On the next possession, Holiday set a real screen for Tatum. Doncic switched it and got crossed over as Tatum got to the basket for an and-1.

Jayson Tatum drive past Luka Doncic

Then, Holiday set a screen for Jaylen Brown. Doncic switched it and committed a foul, putting Brown on the line.

On the fourth trip, Doncic had to pick up Brown in transition. Brown spun past him and drew help, and the Celtics eventually got a wide-open corner 3 for Holiday:

Jrue Holiday corner 3-pointer

Four possessions. Four actions targeting Doncic. 10 points.

Doncic stood up defensively on a few possessions down the stretch, deflecting a Brown pass (after getting beat back door), knocking the ball away from him on the next possession, and staying in front of Tatum just enough to allow a Derrick Jones Jr. block. But it was too little, too late in Game 2, and he’ll need to be more consistent in the future.

3. Tatum the creator

Number to know: Tatum assisted on 27 of his teammates’ points, tied for his fourth-most points assisted in 624 career games. He’s assisted on at least 27 of his teammates’ points six times in his career, with five of those six games coming in the playoffs.

Tatum’s assists didn’t just come via those 29 drives. He also got off the ball quickly when he drew a second defender and had a pair of assists when he was double-teamed in the post:

Jayson Tatum assist to Jrue Holiday

While Tatum hasn’t shot well in the first two games, he probably leads the Finals in creating advantages, either drawing two to the ball or driving by his defender in 1-on-1 situations. And he’s trusted his teammates, who have made shots or plays.

On defense, the Celtics showed more help on Doncic in Game 2. But the players they left open — Jones, Josh Green and Maxi Kleber — didn’t make them pay.

If that doesn’t change in Dallas, this will be a short series.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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