SAN FRANCISCO — The seasoned Warriors are finally in unfamiliar territory.
Thanks to a monumental fourth-quarter collapse against the Celtics in Game 1 Thursday night at the Chase Center, the Warriors are in an 0-1 hole in the NBA Finals.
“It’s not ideal,” said point guard Steph Curry. “But I believe in who we are and how we deal with adversity, how we responded all year, and how we’ve responded in the playoffs after a loss.”
Heading into Thursday, Golden State was 21-2 in Game 1s since the organization hired coach Steve Kerr in 2014. The Warriors trailed 0-1 in a playoff series only twice under Kerr, first in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City in 2016 and then in the NBA Finals against Toronto in 2019. In every other series, the Warriors struck first.
Things seemed to be headed in that direction Thursday night, when Golden State entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point advantage. After trailing by two at the half, the Warriors took control in the third quarter and seemed on their way to an all-too-familiar 1-0 series lead.
Then, a barrage of 3-pointers powered the Celtics to a 40-point fourth quarter and a come-from-behind, 120-108 victory.
“When you win Game 1 at home, there’s a sense of comfort. You kind of have a feel for your opponent at that point and make your adjustments,” Kerr said. “So, it’s a different feeling. Obviously, you go into Game 2 with more of a sense of desperation.”
In the week leading up to Game 1, so much was made of Golden State’s experience. The Warriors have advanced to the Finals six times in the past eight years, the first group to do so since Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990s. Their players have a combined 123 games of Finals experience, while those on the Celtics’ have zero.
The Warriors are familiar with this stage of the postseason. Their core has been here before — and brought home the Larry O’Brien Trophy three times. They’ve reiterated this week they know what it takes to win a championship. They’ve said they know what to expect.
But the Celtics storming back to steal Game 1 presents a new twist. The Warriors are not hitting the panic button. They’re relying on that championship pedigree to buoy them moving forward. Their confidence remains unwaveringly high.
“You get a chance to do something else, do it in a different way, and embrace the challenge,” said guard Draymond Green. “We’ve always embraced challenges. It’s no different. We’ll embrace this one.”
“We’re not going to splinter because we didn’t play like we wanted to,” added forward Klay Thompson. “It’s first to four, not first to one. We all have been through situations like this, and we realize that it’s going to be very hard. The best part about it is we have another opportunity Sunday.”
Asked what he took away from the two other instances the Warriors trailed 0-1 in a series, Thompson stressed the importance of moving on. Golden State came back to beat the Thunder in seven games, but lost to the Raptors in six.
“I remember just putting it past us,” Thompson said. “There’s no reason to hold onto a loss when you have another game so soon. I remember watching film and realizing that there’s many things we can do better and applying those strategies. It’s pretty simple. I just know we’ll be better in Game 2. I’ll be better.”
With two days off before Game 2 tips off Sunday night, the Warriors are going to spend Friday watching film before practicing Saturday.
One area the team will certainly want to address is the number of open threes attempted by the Celtics. In the fourth quarter alone, the Celtics connected on nine of their 12 shots from behind the arc, tying a record set by the Warriors in 2017 for most 3-pointers made by a team in any quarter of a Finals game. Boston seemingly could not miss, as Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard all knocked down at least one three in the fourth.
The Celtics finished the game 21 of 41 (51.2 percent) from three-point range. Horford and White combined for 11 of 14 (78.6 percent).
“It’s going to be tough to beat Boston if they are making 21 threes,” Kerr said.
Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Celtics averaged 13.4 made threes per game on 36.2 percent shooting. A few of the Warriors, particularly Green, indicated that they expect Boston’s hot shooting to regress to the mean, and that their high shooting percentages are not sustainable throughout the Finals.
Even if that’s the case, the point still stands: The Celtics flipped the script on the Warriors, who now find themselves in unusual circumstances.
“It’s a different feeling, but it’s still the first one to four,” Kerr said.