How the Celtics can Beat the Warriors: Stats & plans

The Warriors are coming to Boston, unbeaten. Time to hunker down and figure out how to beat those guys, including and especially the freak (freakishly good) Stephen Curry.

The Celtics have the tools to get it done — perhaps more so than any team in the league not living by the Alamo. And now they have the (probable) added advantage of not having to deal with Mr. Klay Thompson* (who's not only Golden State's best on-ball defender — he also likes to go around hitting 10 threes in a game).

So what tools do the Cs have for beating this latest/greatest super-superteam?
  1. Boston is #1 in the NBA at generating steals and opponent turnovers. As it happens, this is an area of relative weakness for Golden State.
  2. The Celtics have Isaiah Thomas — who is a freak in his own right: an athletic freak of nature. They will have to make maximum use of his talents.
Beating the Warriors means, first and foremost, stopping Stephen Curry from doing Steph Curry things. Curry does a lot of basketball stuff well, but he inflicts the most damage on opponents by shooting the 3-ball. Per NBA's camera tracking stats, there is only ONE way to stop Curry from hitting threes from ANY reasonably imaginable distance — and that's by crowding him.

As you can see from the screenshot, you must be within 2 feet of Curry to bother his shot. (Note: Just a few days ago, that 3P% number was 22% when Curry's "very tightly" guarded. The number of data points is small, so the percentage changes substantially if he makes just one additional tightly-guarded three — which he recently did.)

So.... do it: BE within ~2 feet of Curry, whenever he's on O, as possible. And if, for example, he wants to shoot OVER a defender (like Isaiah) — which he theoretically could do, as he has ~6 inches on IT — so be it. The Celtics will take their chances with that shot.

There are three major players on Boston's roster who have the quickness to stick with Curry: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Smart is out, and Bradley must cover the 2 spot (Klay Thompson or, more likely for Friday, his backup). The job of slowing down Stephen Curry naturally falls to Isaiah.

And if you're wondering if Isaiah is up to the task, there's this:

So -- *POINT #1* is that the following instruction goes to Isaiah Thomas: STICK TO CURRY like white on rice. NO exceptions! Stop him from taking over the game, especially with his 3-ball.

*POINT #2* = MAKE CURRY WORK HARD ON DEFENSE. Once again, this job will have to fall to the Cs' resident super-athlete. Not only must Isaiah guard Golden State's best player all night, he also needs to carry the offense directly at Curry — try to load him up with fouls, tire him out — whatever it takes. Steph Curry is (probably) the world's best player right now, but he's not the world's best athlete. Thomas, on the other hand, is in that discussion (pound-for-pound). He can do this.

As we examine the Warriors' record searching for weaknesses to exploit, we find precious few — but there is one glaring one: they don't take very good care of the ball. Golden State is the 8th-9th worst team in the league at turnovers — as evidenced by their 15.9 TOs per game and 14.2 TOV% (percentage of possessions that end in TO). Even worse is the Dubs' penchant for giving up live-ball turnovers (aka steals), which they do at a rate of 9.0 live turnovers per game4th worst in the league. Late in games, Curry in particular has a way of sometimes throwing the ball away.

So help them throw the ball away. *POINT #3* applies to all players: ATTACK ALL PASSING LANES as aggressively as possible, and FORCE TURNOVERS AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Be even more aggressive than you usually are.

The Celtics are the NBA's #1 best team at generating opponent turnovers (per game and per 100 possessions), and steals (per game and per 100 possessions). The Warriors give up more steals than all other teams, but three. So to win, the Cs need to do what they do best — as often as possible. That's the way to beat a team as spectacularly talented as the Warriors.

If the Celts can get a little lucky on the offensive end (i.e., make shots), their defense can help them overcome the Warriors in TD Garden. But they'll need to push hard on GSW's (few) susceptibilities, and never let up.

So – folks wanna know – will the Cs beat the Dubs on Friday? There's no such thing as a team that's likely to beat the Warriors right now. But it's certainly possible. A little bit of luck, plus some hard work — it could happen.

P.S.: Fans should remember not to make too much noise when the Cs are on defense. Excessive noise can interfere with their on-court communication, which is vital on the defensive end. But feel free to shout your lungs out when the Celts are on offense... and, you know, the Warriors are trying to hear themselves.

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* Thompson's right ankle bent to an angle of ~110 degrees when he landed badly on Tuesday, December 8. Regardless of whatever the Warriors say to the media, they're unlikely to let him play again before ~10 days go by. But of course, we'll see, soon enough.

Green Stats runs after each Celtics game, right here, usually within ~ 1 to 20 hours of the final horn.

Photo: Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

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