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Tara Sullivan

The Celtics should have expected the Warriors to respond, and they should be happy with a split on the road

Al Horford can't stop Steph Curry from scoring in the third quarter.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

It’s a best-of-five series now, with three games in Boston.

Who wouldn’t have signed on for that?

Sure, a 107-88 final out of San Francisco stung, and yes, a Game 2 loss that tied this NBA Finals with the Warriors was weighed down by the disappointment of what could have been.

But as much as Celtics fans had their giddy hopes dashed that Boston could somehow top the heroics of a Game 1 shocker and leave the Bay Area with a near-insurmountable 2-0 series lead, they can certainly head to TD Garden on Wednesday night secure in the knowledge these Celtics can hang with the mighty Dubs.


They just have to figure out how to survive the third quarter.

The Warriors tried to be as physical as possible with Jayson Tatum in Game 2 -- here, Kevon Looney defends as Tatum tries to drive to the basket.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

On this night, with the Warriors fueled by so much desperation, against a prideful home team clearly out to erase the embarrassment of a Game 1 meltdown, the Celtics were swamped. This time, the Warriors were unwilling to let their patented third-quarter heroics go for naught, and unlike Game 1, when the Celtics chipped away at a deficit with a stunning scoring barrage in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, it was the Warriors’ turn to do that Sunday night.

Two quick Boston turnovers, 6 straight Golden State points, and it was already time for Ime Udoka to clear his bench. The rout was on.

“We said we needed to play with desperation and that’s what we did,” Steph Curry said. “Now we got to take it on the road.”

And now, the Celtics have to protect their home court.

“Onto Game 3,” Al Horford said, “and I can’t wait to get to the Garden. I know it’s going to be rocking on Wednesday.”

Whether that proves to be enough to lift the Celtics — actually a better road team this postseason than home team — depends on how well they can turn off their own turnover problems and how much they can turn up their own third-quarter performance.


“Just playing with a sense of urgency,” said Jayson Tatum, who found his shooting touch Sunday, scoring 28 to lead the Celts, but would have traded it for a win. “Human nature plays a part in that — when you’re on the road, obviously it’s a tougher environment. I felt like recently we kind of relaxed at home, whether we thought we had a home-court advantage. It’s a sense of urgency, just knowing we need to play better, even though we’re at home.”

Particularly as the second half opens, a stretch that has bedeviled the Celtics too many times to be a coincidence.

And that’s particularly dangerous now, because if you’ve watched the Warriors, you knew it was coming. If you’ve played the Warriors, you know that it’s coming. But knowing it doesn’t mean stopping it, and once again, the Warriors splashed third-quarter buckets in their uniquely dominant way.

The Celtics were unable to stop it.

Led by the peerless Curry (who finished with a game-high 29 points), the Warriors dominated the third quarter again, this time outscoring the Celtics, 35-14, to take an 87-64 lead into the final stanza. Not even the Celtics’ top-ranked defense could do much to stop the barrage, and turning over the ball 15 times across the first three quarters certainly didn’t help their cause. By the time Jordan Poole splashed a preposterous 3-pointer as the third-quarter buzzer sounded, the Warriors sure looked to have righted themselves from the disaster of their Game 1 meltdown.


“In our previous series, in our wins we didn’t turn it over, in our losses we turned it over excessively,” Horford said. “We have to be better. I know we can prevent a lot of those and in order for us to have a better chance of winning, we have to cut those down.”

How will Al Horford, Derick White, Jayson Tatum and the rest of the Celtics respond in Game 3?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics might also find a way to impose their own physical will on the next game, returning the favor to a Warriors group that all seemed to play in the image of pest-in-chief Draymond Green. The most memorable image of the night had to be Jaylen Brown sprawled on the floor with Green’s sneakered feet wrapped around his ears, the result of Green, the Warriors’ peskiest defender and loudest trash-talker, falling backward into Brown as Brown let fly with a 3-pointer.

Green was whistled for a foul, but got lucky when there was no double technical to follow.

With Green shoving Brown away with a push to the back, the two then got tangled as they pushed their way onto their feet. They had to be separated by teammates, which could have been disastrous for Green. Having already earned a tech earlier in the game, a second would have meant automatic ejection. But an official review ruled no further penalty, and Brown, visibly annoyed, had to settle for three free throws.


“Draymond fouled me on the three and then put his legs on my head or whatever. I tried to get up,” Brown said. “But that’s what they’re going to do: Try to muck the game up. Try to raise their level of intensity. We gotta raise ours.”

Green got away with it, and his Warriors, energized as the halftime break drew near, went into the locker room up by a bucket, 52-50.

A quarter later, the game wasn’t technically over, but after another patented Warriors barrage, it was over.

Five games left in the series now, three of them in Boston. Who wouldn’t have signed on for that?

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @Globe_Tara.