The first of possibly several rubber games in a series expected to span seven games was scheduled for Boston on Friday night.
The Celtics were looking to avoid losing straight games in the playoffs for the first time in the postseason – they stood 6-0 in Game 3 at Boston’s TD Garden after losses.
The Warriors were looking to extend their winning streak of winning at least one away game in 26 playoff series, an NBA record. They will get another chance on Friday night after losing 116-100 to the Celtics and will try to avoid a 3-1 series draw.
Here are some takeaways:
Jaylen Brown makes himself heard
The Celtics are actually built around a pair of young All-Star wings, but Jayson Tatum’s rise as a first-team All-NBA player and a likely bet on Finals MVP if the Celtics win the title is something over-shadowed Jaylen Brown.
But Brown – a third overall pick in 2016, a year before Tatum was third – was determined to make a difference in Game 3.
He started the first quarter with a three and also hit one to round out the quarter. Between both? He got rolling. Brown passed crisply, planted the ball and battered through Draymond Green, finishing the frame with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists on 6-of-9 shooting — the main reason Boston held an impressive 33-22 lead in the first quarter.
He had some good moments in the first two games but faltered at times – coming in Game 3 and shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor.
The question would be if he and the Celtics could sustain their strong start. He didn’t end up with 68 points, of course, but Brown found plenty of opportunities to contribute on his way to a Celtics-high of 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
With Brown starting it up, the Warriors’ defense was spread too thin. Tatum finished the tournament with 26 points and nine assists, while Marcus Smart added 24 points and five assists, making them the first teammate trio since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper to have at least 20 points and five assists in the Finals scored it for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984, per ESPN.
Celtics manage the ball
From the Celtics’ perspective, losing possession was the story of their final run. If they cough up the ball 15 times or less, they’re 12-2 in the playoffs. If it’s 16 or more, Boston is 1-5.
In Game 2, it was 19 Celtics turnovers and an overwhelming victory for the Warriors. Brown and Tatum have been some of the worst offenders for the Celtics, but the trick is that they continue to remain aggressive, only neater along the way.
“If you understand where you have your sockets, the boys get into the spacing faster,” was the recipe from Celtics head coach Ime Udoka. “Frequently we cut or cut or get flares and clog the lane. We want to spread well, but the boys have to be decisive. Our goal scorers are goal scorers. You’ve improved as a playmaker. Whether you’re going in the basket to score or make a pass, you need to read the space, read what they’re doing a little bit differently than other teams… [and] From there, just read it, but be aggressive.
There was a moment when the Warriors were able to rout Boston with six minutes remaining in the third quarter when they capitalized on a 10-0 run that saw Boston have a live ball turnover, one of eight in the first Halftime for 14 Warriors points, but Brown and Tatum only had two together. In the second half, the Celtics only had four turnovers, giving them 12 for the game and improving their record to 13-2 if they had 15 turnovers or fewer.
The Warriors win the third quarter – again.
As the New Orleans Pelicans’ CJ McCollum tweeted the other day, “The Warriors are the best 3approx quarterback team I’ve ever seen.”
That was in Game 1 when the Warriors looked like they would blow out Boston with a dominant performance after halftime, but the tide turned when the Celtics went nuclear in the fourth. In Game 2, the Warriors did it again and carried the momentum into the fourth for their own blowout win.
Great third quarters were her trademark. In their last five finals, the Warriors ranked first among the playoff teams in third-quarter net scoring and came into Game 3 right after halftime with a plus of 9.5 per 100 possessions. No one really knows why, it just is.
The difference in Game 3 was that the Warriors had to push to stay in the game after being 12 down at halftime. Once again it was Curry who did the heavy lifting. When he was fouled by Al Horford on a deep three, taking the shot and free throw, the four-point game cut the Celtics’ lead to five. Then, with Horford’s foul deemed overt, the Warriors kept the ball and Otto Porter’s subsequent three-pointer made it a seven-point possession to reduce Boston’s lead to two.
Another three-pointer from Curry – again from a simple pick-and-roll action designed to attack Horford on the perimeter – gave the Warriors the lead and erased the Celtics’ 18-point advantage. Curry finished the quarter with 15 points for the period and Thompson with 10, but most importantly, the Warriors kept Boston on 33 percent shooting for the period, a big improvement from the first half when Boston penalized them with 57 percent shooting.
Celtics win possession game
Toronto Raptors fans may remember: sometimes it’s not how you shoot, but how many. Boston dominated the Warriors on offensive glass (15-6), resulting in a 22-11 advantage in second chance points. They were also careful with the ball in terms of turnovers while doing a good job of urging the Warriors to make mistakes as they made 16 turnovers to Boston’s 12.
As a result, Boston was able to take 11 more shots than the Warriors, more than offsetting the Warriors’ three-point shooting advantage at 15-13. The offensive glass seemed to have a story to tell. With two of Horford, Robert Williams and Grant Williams, always on the ground, the Celtics seemed bigger and stronger and faster than the Warriors, not to mention the size and athletic advantage that Brown, Tatum and Smart all boasted their respective positions offered the wing.
The Celtics expressed their advantage most clearly in the fourth quarter as they had an 8-1 lead in turnovers and a 4-0 lead in offensive rebounds as the Celtics won the last quarter 23-11.
The Return of Clay
The only clear conclusion that could be drawn from Games 1 and 2 was that the Warriors would need someone to back Curry. In the first two games, it certainly wasn’t Thompson who had played that role in the Warriors’ last five finals. Thompson couldn’t find his way in the forest of the Celtics’ long-armed defenders as he was just 10-of-33 from the ground and 4-of-15 from deep in Games 1 and 2.
But Thompson — a career 3-pointer 41 percent late in the postseason — had a plan: Watch yourself on video.
“That’s the beauty of playing these days. You can go on YouTube and look up all your great moments,” he said prior to Game 3. “…I remember being in college when you’re going through a shooting crisis, the video guys are going to show a great game when everything seemed to be in tune, your body working so well that the ball just flowed from your fingertips.
“Gosh, probably just YouTube ‘Game 6 Klay’ because I’ve been in some very high pressure situations. In the end I shot the ball well. If you can do it when your back is against the wall, you can do it anytime. It’s just about staying mentally strong.”
Thompson showed he had put his downtime to good use. He missed his first three looks but finally made it with a triple late in the first quarter and then scored 10 points in the first seven minutes of the second quarter to keep the Warriors in touch as the Celtics attempted to retreat.
“For me, it’s about keeping the same attitude as when shooting,” he said. “I’d rather go down swinging than be gun shy.”
He finished with 25 points and was 5 of 13 from deep.