NBA Draft

The Celtics planned to plant their flag atop the NBA by beating the Warriors. Golden State had other ideas.


“That was a tough one,” Tatum said. “Wide open three, looked good, get my own rebound, lay the ball up, missed it. It’s like ‘damn, that was tough.’”

The Celtics were relegated to chumps Saturday in their 123-107 loss. They looked eerily similar to the crew that was outclassed in the NBA Finals by the Warriors. And the Warriors looked nothing like the .500 team that has been experiencing myriad issues in its quest to repeat.

Klay Thompson peppered the Celtics with open jumpers, repeatedly battering Boston’s defense by walking into open shots. Stephen Curry followed with a 30-foot 3-pointer while Jordan Poole lived at the free throw line.

This was supposed to be an opportunity for the Celtics to prove in front of a national audience they are unquestionably the NBA’s best team. And they still may be, but on Saturday that tag appeared fraudulent.

Credit Steve Kerr for completely outcoaching inexperienced counterpart Joe Mazzulla. The Golden State defense made the Celtics uncomfortable. Tatum, looking to boost his MVP campaign, looked as if Andrew Wiggins was defending him, except Wiggins didn’t play due to injury.

It was supposed to be the Celtics’ night, especially after their dominant performance Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns. But they never got untracked and it appeared everyone on their roster besides Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon (who wasn’t around in June) reverted to their NBA Finals form.

“I think we definitely played a little tense and we’ve got some stuff we need to continue to work on,” Brown said. “Last year is over. Obviously we have to learn and grow, which we have. We played this game like we had it circled, almost in a sense, for a long time instead of just playing our game, the way we’ve been playing. We were a little tense and it kind of showed.”

Tatum was the most distressing. The Warriors guarded him with multiple defenders. He never looked comfortable. He tried launching 3-pointers that clanged off the rim. He tried attacking the basket but multiple defenders met him there, too. He couldn’t consistently get to the free throw line and he couldn’t make shots.

“A lot of easy ones I missed,” Tatum said of his 6-for-21 shooting performance. “I just gotta be better. I blame myself. I gotta do better to help the team win.”

Jayson Tatum’s struggles against the Warriors continued on Saturday.Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press

Like the Finals, Marcus Smart made little impact on the game. He couldn’t impact Curry or Thompson defensively and couldn’t score at the rim.

It was a disappointing performance because the Celtics had only looked this bad in their two games at Chicago. But the Warriors took their days off, studied the Celtics’ tendencies and ensured they couldn’t rely on those tendencies.

They made the Celtics uncomfortable. The Warriors are a great home team, considerably better in all categories than on the road. And they played like a team not prepared to give up their crowd, a team that’s been closely following their rivals to the East and used this matchup as a litmus test for their progress.

Mazzulla appeared resigned to the fact he was outcoached and his team was completely outplayed.

“I thought they did a better job on their details; I thought they did a better job on executing than we did and at times they made more effort plays,” Mazzulla said. “I think it comes down to that. When we’re at our best, we’re detailed, we execute; we play really really hard. We had moments of that but against a really good team you have to have it consistently.”

The season isn’t over. The Celtics still have the best record in the NBA, but they were taught a valuable lesson about game-planning, execution, and resilience. The Warriors are champions for a reason. Thompson and Curry were back to their old “Splash Brothers” ways, combining for 66 points in making 26 of the 47 Golden State baskets (and shooting a combined 26 for 47).

Draymond Green was harassing the Celtics defensively and without Al Horford, they was no interior defensive presence. The Celtics got drubbed and now have to respond by taking this experience and ensuring it doesn’t happen when the games really count.

“Tonight was probably more meaningful to you guys than it was to us,” Tatum said. “It’s one game. We want to win every game we play. It’s tough. You never want to lose and we’ve been playing well. But it’s not going to dictate our season. We’ve had a great season so far and it’s all about how we respond.”


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.



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