Warriors’ strategy against Jaylen Brown backfires and they lose by 52 in Boston

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BOSTON — The Golden State Warriors, dragging at the end of a successful trip and adjusting to the announced absence of Kristaps Porziņģis, rerouted their defensive game plan against the Boston Celtics not long before tipoff Sunday afternoon.

“Like 15 minutes before we left the locker room,” Draymond Green estimated.

The main crux of the strategy, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr relayed after the game but was obvious to anyone who watched, involved Green guarding Jaylen Brown but not staying attached to him. Green sagged off Brown in an attempt to muck up the paint.

“We wanted Draymond to be able to help on drives and make sure we weren’t giving up easy stuff,” Kerr said.

Steph Curry said it was a “joint decision” between the team’s leaders and coaches. The Celtics have a 121.7 offensive rating, the best in NBA history. They’re 30-3 at home, loaded with weapons and have been scorching opponents. So the Warriors ignored Brown, who entered the game at 34.8 percent from 3 on the season, in hopes he’d miss the available 3s when they were inevitably funneled in his direction.

“A team that has that many threats, you try to find some weak spot to see if it’ll throw them off a little bit,” Curry said. “Obviously, it didn’t work.”

Brown made a batting practice 3 on Boston’s first possession and, in the process, discovered the Warriors were willing to cede clean looks anytime he wanted it. He made a 12-footer on the next possession down and then the aggressiveness ramped up.

Right before the nine-minute mark, he walked into a top-of-the-key 3 as Green stood at the free-throw line. This is what most of the first quarter looked like:

Brown then made a corner 3 and two more straightaway 3s that Green and the Warriors willingly gifted. Jayson Tatum, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday were mostly quiet in the process, but Brown erupted. He had 19 points in the first seven minutes, including five 3s. The pressure that can sometimes get to his dribble wasn’t there. He revved into a rhythm and shot the Celtics to a blowout win: 140-88.

“It ain’t work. Oh well. We move on,” Green said. “I thought it was fun to try. I was actually all for it. Let’s try it. See if it works. If it don’t, oh well. If it does, we found something. All right, it don’t. So we move on.”

The score was briefly tied at 21-21. Brown’s three consecutive 3s made it 30-21, which was only the initial steps of a Celtics stampede. Boston went on an outrageous 61-17 run in the final 18 minutes of the half. The Warriors didn’t make a shot in the final six minutes of the first quarter. They trailed 82-38 at halftime. It was the most points they’d given up in a half this season and the fewest they’d scored.

Curry said the failure of the strategy against Brown bled into the offensive ineptitude. Curry, who entered the game questionable with some knee bursitis, missed all nine of his 3s and rested the entire second half.

“When you have a creative idea and it doesn’t work, you’re taking the ball out of the basket, they’re hitting 10 3s in the first quarter,” Curry said. “That’s what we used to do to teams. It’s kind of demoralizing, especially on the road. It’s a shot you’re comfortable giving up, and they’re taking advantage. Then it feels like we got to play home run basketball on the other end to make it.”

Kerr didn’t go into great detail on the strategic misstep because he wanted to “flush it” and pinned some blame on the poor transition defense, which gave up 42 Boston fast-break points. The larger point: No strategic answer was available Sunday for what a rested, charged-up Celtics team had ready for the fatigued Warriors.

“Boston was amazing,” Kerr said. “We weren’t beating them today.”

The Warriors finished the trip 3-1. That’s an overall success. They handled a bad Washington Wizards team, took apart an injured New York Knicks team and finished off the lottery Toronto Raptors despite a nightmare day of travel that didn’t have them to their hotel until 7 a.m. They return home for two days of rest before facing the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.

The pack of West teams above them have fallen back within striking distance. At 32-28, they’re tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the ninth seed, 1 1/2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks (who lost to the Philadelphia 76ers at home) for the eighth seed, 2 1/2 behind the Sacramento Kings for seventh and three behind the Phoenix Suns for sixth.

“No regrets on how we approached it,” Curry said. “Learning lesson for us to take the hit we took tonight and not let it linger. On the whole, we’ve been playing some solid basketball. Wash this one down the drain, but remind yourself the level we have to get to if we want to be the team that’s a serious threat at the end of the year.”

Which might be the larger lesson of the past few weeks. The Warriors have stabilized into a legitimate playoff team, harboring realistic beliefs they can play themselves into the first round. They’re 11-3 in their last 14.

But they’ve also lost to a powerhouse Denver Nuggets team at home — Denver is 4-0 against them this season — and just suffered an embarrassing 52-point blowout loss in Boston on the national stage, letting the world know they remain a level or two below the elite. But Curry said he believes the Warriors can get there.

“Once you get into the playoffs and you have a series in front of you, understand who your opponent is, go through the preparation — we’ve been good in those scenarios,” Curry said. “That’s the big picture.”

(Photo of Draymond Green and Jaylen Brown: Steven Senne / Associated Press)

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