2022 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Celtics

4 things to watch for in Game 2 of NBA Finals

Golden State needs a win to avoid a 2-0 series hole, while Jayson Tatum looks to get back on track.

The last time Jayson Tatum shot below 25% from the field, he responded with 30 points in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

 Complete coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

SAN FRANCISCO — The beauty of this postseason is how one game has had little to nothing in common with the next. One night a team can win, then get pummeled the next night. How many times did that happen in the first round, the semis, the conference finals?

And will it happen in Game 2 of the NBA Finals?

As Warriors guard Steph Curry said: “Narratives can change in a hurry.”

Like, it could in a matter of days, between the Finals opener last Thursday when the Celtics ambushed Golden State on the road, and then late Sunday night after Game 2 if the Warriors respond favorably.

Therefore: With regard to possible key players and strategies and situations, here are four things to watch for in Game 2, Warriors vs. Celtics:

1. All eyes, along with the Warriors’ attention, on Tatum

You know what’s coming. They know what’s coming. He knows what’s coming. Jayson Tatum, from the opening tip, will look to free himself from the funk. One poor shooting game is an anomaly. Two is a trend.

And if it happens again to Boston’s superstar-in-the-making, well, the Celtics can’t assume they can bail him out with role players taking up the slack. The good news for Boston is Tatum’s bounce-back games in these playoffs, after similar struggles, delivered 38-, 31- and 30-point statements.

“I’ve been here before,” he said. “I know what to do next game. I think a lot of it is mental. You don’t let it creep into your mind.”

However, the Warriors are bracing for this. And just because Tatum might be a bit more active in looking for his shot, it doesn’t mean those shots will fall or that Golden State won’t be prepared for his uptick in intensity.

It’ll be worth watching to see if Tatum goes overboard or is patient and waits for opportunities to present themselves. He’s a solid passer and did have 13 assists in Game 1 by creating chances for others. And the Warriors were thrilled with that.

“I’m sure part of their game plan, making me a playmaker and not letting me be comfortable,” he said. “It’s just something I feel like every team has more or less been doing throughout the playoffs.”

While that certainly helps, Tatum is most dangerous as a scorer. And the Celtics will need to see that side of him Sunday.

“Obviously, I know I’ve got to play better,” he said. “I can’t shoot like that every game and hopefully we win. I expect to play better shooting-wise, but just impacting the game in different ways to do my part and let’s get a win. I will continue to do that. Just read the game, read each play. That’s how I kind of approach next game.”

Ultimate Preview: The Warriors look to pull even with the Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

2. The agony of a 2-0 deficit

It was just a year ago in the Finals when the Bucks dropped the first pair against the Suns and, almost as bad, had to listen to all the noise before winning four straight and claiming the series in six. So yeah, a 2-0 hole isn’t a basketball death sentence.

But the difference then, versus what the Warriors are staring at now, is the Bucks dropped those two on the road. Only five teams won titles after 0-2; no team has ever won after going 0-2 at home. You can therefore imagine the sense of urgency on the Warriors. Lose this one, and the buzzards circle.

The Warriors and the basketball world, if they forgot, were reminded how resilient the Celtics are on the road in the playoffs (8-2). Boston ignores that hazard. Like, for example, do you think Marcus Smart is scared? Jaylen Brown? They’ve been doing this all postseason. They won a pair of elimination games on the road. They’ll show up Sunday, once again.

This comes as a shock to the Warriors, who were unbeaten at home before Game 1, who can’t use Chase Center anymore as an edge. To them, this is almost like a Game 7, given the history of 2-0 deficits, given how they would then need to win four of five against the league’s hottest team since late January.

The Warriors are expected to respond like a proud ex-champion, one that hasn’t lost two consecutive games in these playoffs, one that certainly should finish better than it did last Thursday.

“There’s really no panic. It doesn’t kill your confidence,” said Curry, about dropping the opener.

But follow up with another, and it very likely will kill your chances.

3. Anticipate some Feats of Klay

The last time Klay Thompson was in the NBA Finals was three years ago when he crumbled to the floor, grabbed his right knee, winced, heard a hush inside the Coliseum in Oakland, and was helped off the floor … and then did something very Klay-ish.

He checked back in, went to the line, made his free throws and actually tried to stay in Game 6 against the Raptors until someone said to him: “Uh, Klay, you might have a very serious issue here.”

We bring this up to explain how Klay doesn’t sweat the small stuff — or big stuff — and therefore isn’t daunted by the task of improving on his so-so start to this series. Now, understand, he wasn’t as invisible as Jordan Poole in Game 1, but of the two players, the Warriors level a bit more importance on Thompson, who’s the more dangerous if not better all-around player even after a pair of major leg surgeries.

“I need to make more shots, I need to take more shots, I need to get more stops,” he said. “I need to just be myself, and that would be one of the greatest to ever shoot it.”

The Celtics know if Thompson gets rolling, the domino effect is dangerous. Dallas discovered this when Klay dropped 32 points on 3s and pull-up mid-rangers and started shimmying and the Mavericks were done, because their defense by then was simply stretched too thin.

Thompson is also anxious for his Finals moment if only because, purely from a psychological standpoint, the Finals is where his troubles began. What better way to exorcise that demon than with a beautiful bounce-back — for himself, and subsequently for the Warriors in Game 2? The Warriors will try to get him rolling early and maybe he and a hot Curry can get Smart and/or Brown in foul trouble. Speaking of that …

4. Marcus is well on the mend

You know what was the most encouraging sign for the Celtics coming off Game 1? Aside from Al Horford and all those 3s from the bench players and that fourth-quarter flourish and winning a game with Tatum in the dumps, that is?

Smart played 30 gimp-free minutes. Plus, he was on the floor well into the fourth quarter and was part of the hurricane that hit the Bay Area hard. And he’s had two days off since.

“Oh, it’s big,” Smart said, smiling. “It’s big time for me. With an ankle injury or any type of injury, the more time you can get off, the more rest, it’s definitely good. So just keep going. The trainers are doing a very good job making sure on those off days we’re doing everything we’re supposed to. Not overdoing it, but also making sure we’re getting the work in to continue the healing process.”

What this means is the league’s best defensive player, who grimaced through a pair of seven-game series in these playoffs — and missed three of those games — is feeling physically frisky right now. That bum ankle that annoyed him for three-plus weeks could be in the rear view, and remember, this injury was a key concern for Boston heading into the Finals.

But you saw how Smart moved on the floor in Game 1, was aggressive defensively with his traps and ball denial and on the dribbles (two strips), and had energy on the other end of the floor.

Assuming all’s good from here, this is a huge plus for Boston in Game 2 and beyond because Smart can play worry-free, which is necessary against such a terrific offensive team as the Warriors and their shifty, screen-loving guards.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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