SAN FRANCISCO — After another lousy third quarter in a playoff full of them for the Boston Celtics, it seemed to the world that the Golden State Warriors were on the verge of winning Game 1 of the Finals. NBA at Chase Center Thursday night.
But the fourth quarter has begun. And, after a Celtics 3-point avalanche, this game – and this series – was completely turned upside down.
Boston hit its first seven 3-pointers to open the fourth and beat Golden State 40-16 to stun the Warriors 120-108. In doing so, Boston became the first team in NBA Finals history to win by double digits after entering the fourth quarter in double digits, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Being resilient has been the word for this year,” said Payton Pritchard. “I think it showed tonight.”
He certainly did in the second half. Boston struggled through the entire postseason in the third quarter and did it again in Game 1, as they faced a Warriors team that has historically dominated coming out of halftime.
The Celtics were outscored 38-24 in third. They committed five turnovers. They let Golden State go from 3 points. And Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 2 for 10 from the field.
By then, Chase Center — which was hosting its first-ever NBA Finals game — was rocking. The party had apparently started. But, inside the Boston group, the feeling was different.
“The message at the start of the fourth was, ‘We’ve been here before,'” Tatum said. “We know what it takes to close a deficit like that.
“Obviously they are a great team. It won’t be easy. no? it was time to put your head down or be done, it was time to figure it out.”
That’s exactly what the Celtics did. It helps, of course, when a team comes out and buries its first seven 3-pointers, as Boston did. But it went beyond that. The Celtics finished the fourth quarter 9 for 12 from 3-point range.
Golden State, on the other hand, shot just 7 of 17 from the field. The Celtics stopped turning the ball, posting an absurd 12-to-1 assist-to-rotation ratio in the fourth. Boston’s plus-24 margin in the fourth quarter was the best of an NBA Finals game.
And the Celtics got contributions up and down the roster, including Celtics coach Ime Udoka leaving reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, opting to the place to ride Pritchard for the biggest moments of Boston’s season so far.
“We are proud that everyone can contribute from both sides,” Udoka said. “It’s rewarding, especially on a night when your best guy has a night off, others are stepping in.”
Derrick White continued his brilliant game since the birth of his child at the start of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 21 points off the bench and hitting five 3-pointers.
Al Horford, playing his first game in the NBA Finals after being the record holder for most playoff games played without a Finals appearance, had 26 points, six rebounds and three assists, including making all four shots he took in the fourth quarter – and overall his career high with six 3-pointers.
Even with Tatum struggling, going 3 for 17 from the field, he still finished with 13 assists to just two turnovers, and was plus-27 in the fourth quarter without scoring a single point. He finished with four assists and no turnovers while missing all three shots he took during the quarter.
“Ecstatic,” Tatum said with a smile, when asked how he felt about the game. “Forty points in the fourth quarter…guys made big shots, timely shots too. And we won.
“I had a bad shooting night. I just tried to impact the game in another way. We’re in the league. We’re in the final. All I was worried about was was to try to win, and we did. That’s all that matters at this stage.
“So I don’t expect to shoot so badly again. But if it means we keep winning, I’ll take it.”
That was the Celtics’ overall message: that they managed to steal Game 1 while not playing their best. Yes, they had shots, going 21 for 41 on 3 points. But they had that sloppy third quarter and also got off to a slow start to start the game, when a roster that didn’t feature a single player with NBA Finals experience sometimes looked like that in the first quarter.
“Just keep playing. That was our message throughout the game,” Horford said. “They’re such a good team. And for us it was just, you know, keep playing no matter what.
“And our guys, that’s what we did. It wasn’t our best game, but we kept fighting and finding different ways to get this win.”
In many ways, this game was a microcosm of Boston’s roller coaster season. The Celtics were below .500 at the end of January, before tearing up the NBA in the final 35 games of the regular season, posting the league’s best offensive and defensive ratings during that span.
Boston then endured two tough seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat to get there, including winning road playoff games against both teams. They have now become the first team to beat the Warriors at Chase Center in a playoff game.
Now, having made it to the NBA Finals after playing 12 games in 23 days in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and Finals, Boston will now rest another three days and prepare to play again. here in Game 2 on Sunday night, when the Celtics get a chance to get their hands on this streak with another win.
“It just says what we’ve been doing all year,” Smart said. “We’ve been counted all year. Rightly so. We’ve had moments. But we keep fighting. That’s who we are.
“I think for the last couple of months that’s been our identity. I think that’s stuck with us for a reason.”
And, suddenly, the Celtics are three wins away from an NBA title.