NBA Finals: How the Celtics won Game 1 by giving the Warriors and Stephen Curry a taste of their own medicine

NBA Finals: How the Celtics won Game 1 by giving the Warriors and Stephen Curry a taste of their own medicine

SAN FRANCISCO – A grueling 3-point barrage that leaves the opponent shrouded in helplessness, seeking answers from a higher power. Players on the bench celebrate with deserved arrogance every time the ball crosses the net without any resistance from the rim. A series of dots that leaves you skimming through the record books, unable to comprehend that something so devastating has never happened before.

In the very first game of the NBA Finals at Chase Center, it was supposed to be Golden State Warriors history – their return to the top echelon of the basketball universe. Instead, the Boston Celtics launched an unprecedented fourth-quarter run, sparked by put-out shots and precise ball movement, to come away with a 120-108 Game 1 victory in San Francisco, draining life. of what had been electrically. rabid crowd sold out.

Golden State’s too-good-to-be-true narrative was already being written midway through the first quarter. Stephen Curry was on an unstoppable heat that only he is capable of, going 6-for-8 from 3-pointers en route to 21 points in the opening frame. Fast forward to the second half, when a signature Warriors run in the third quarter turned their two-point halftime deficit into a 15-point lead with just over two minutes remaining.

A 38-point third quarter of this nature has been a knockout blow for many hapless opponents in the Warriors’ past eight basketball seasons. To say Boston responded would be one of the biggest understatements in the NBA’s 75-year history.

When people think of the Warriors, they probably think of 3-pointers — the long-range bursts of Curry and Klay Thompson stand above all other snipers in basketball lore. On Thursday, however, Boston used the Warriors’ beloved weapon against them.

The Celtics beat Golden State, 40-16, in the final frame, made all the more crushing by the blistering 9-for-12 3-point shot they rained down on the Bay Area and its fans. At one point, they made seven consecutive 3-pointers, the last by Al Horford giving his team a six-point lead which, given the imbalance in momentum at the time, seemed virtually insurmountable.

The turnaround was all the more remarkable as Jayson Tatum, Boston’s leading scorer who just won the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, was held to 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting against at various aggressive defensive looks throughout the night, including a box-and-one. His 13 assists, however, embodied a Celtics team – bolstered by head coach Ime Udoka’s message – determined to put on the right play, no matter how simple, confident that it would eventually yield positive results.

“They do a great job of helping out and things like that. So, you know, obviously it’s as simple as if you draw two, find someone who’s open,” Tatum said after the first game. “That’s what I was just trying to do.”

It wasn’t just that the Celtics made 3s — they were 21 for 41 for the game — it was how they put them up. They moved the ball quickly, penetrating the paint and kicking players into perfect position with even more perfect passes. Take a look at this play where the Celtics had four passes in six seconds, leading to an open 3 for Horford, who set an NBA record for players making their Finals debut with six 3-pointers on the night.

Dare we say, this ball movement looks like Warriors.

The Celtics also used the small ball, a Golden State staple of years past, to dominate the fourth quarter for both sides. The unit on the field when Boston finally took the lead was Horford at center, with Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard. Less than three minutes later, the Celtics had developed a six-point advantage and played Warriors center Kevon Looney off the field. Steve Kerr responded with the “Poole Party” lineup of Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole – who spat after looking unbeatable against the Denver Nuggets in the first round – but he was unable to plug the gaping holes in the Warriors’ barrage that the Celtics had furiously ruptured.

The attack was so widespread that the Warriors had no one to fall back on. Horford, Brown, White and Marcus Smart had two 3s apiece in the fourth quarter. Pritchard added one. “Strength in numbers” has been the Warriors motto for years, but on Thursday it certainly applied to the Celtics.

“We are proud that everyone can contribute from both sides,” Udoka said after the match. “It’s rewarding, especially on a night when your best guy has a night off.”

Defensively, the Celtics went to a lot more switching and pre-switching in the fourth quarter to limit Curry’s shot and the Warriors’ penetration. Udoka said the small unit also played with more physicality and “seemed to carry [the Warriors] down a bit.” They held Golden State to 6-of-15 shooting in the fourth quarter, including 1 for 6 3-pointers, before the benches were emptied at the last minute, and forced as many turnovers as possible. Warriors had assists. Overall, the small-ball formation has paid off for Boston, and that’s something to watch as the series progresses.

In a way, it was only fitting that these Celtics would come out of a major deficit in their first game of the NBA Finals – after all, their regular season was marked by an unlikely act of switch flipping. After a mediocre start, they found themselves 25-25 on January 28. From that point on, they went 26-7 with a plus-13.8 net rating, five points better than the closest challenger, and won the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics know how to fight back because they’ve been fighting back all year, and Udoka continued to preach resilience as the Warriors extended their lead in the third quarter.

“We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through a lot of experiences, a lot of losses. We know what it takes to win,” Brown said after Game 1. “I give credit to every guy in that locker room. .top to bottom.We have a great and resilient group.The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The weirdest part about the playoffs, and especially the finals, is that as soon as the final buzzer sounds on game 1, everything revolves around game 2. Both teams will watch the film and make adjustments, knowing that the complexion Sunday’s rematch might look absolutely nothing like the opener. But on Thursday, the Celtics confirmed what they’ve come to understand over the past five months – they believe they have what it takes to be NBA champions, and nothing can deter them from that mindset. .

“We can’t go too high and we can’t go too low. We played really well, but we have to match that energy next game, and we understand that,” Smart said. “We all know this game is a racing game. You don’t come into the game planning to play badly. Things happen. You just have to find a way.”

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