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Christopher L. Gasper

The Celtics don’t have an answer for their third-quarter struggles, and they’re running out of excuses

Grant Williams can only chase after Steph Curry on this 3-pointer in the third.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

SAN FRANCISCO — The first two games of the NBA Finals provided a personality test for Celtics fans. What type of fan are you?

Do you look at the series and think the Celtics are only one forgettable third quarter in Game 2 from being up 2-0? Or are you a parquet pessimist who watched the third-degree basketball burns the Warriors inflicted on the Celtics in that runaway third Sunday and think the only thing separating them from being Steph Curry cannon fodder is one magical fourth quarter in Game 1?

We know how the Celtics like to track how many quarters they win. We were subjected to that insipid stat in the Eastern Conference finals. The third quarter of Game 2 was disastrous déjà vu from when the Celtics were outscored, 39-14, in Miami in Game 1 of that series. Golden State’s third-quarter gold rush left a mark in a 107-88 loss. The 35-14 Blitz by the Bay set the Celtics back an insurmountable amount (87-64), reanimated the Warriors, and reset the series.

Bad, bad, bad. Bad things come in threes. Well, bad things come in the third quarter for these Celtics. It’s their Waterloo.


“It’s definitely frustrating,” said guard Derrick White. “We’ve talked about it pretty much the whole postseason. It’s easy to talk about, but we’ve got to go out there and change something. That was a big quarter for them and really a quarter that put us away.”

The NBA’s resident Road Warriors came in determined to stay the course against the Warriors at Chase Center. Unfortunately, the Celtics stayed consistent only in producing third-quarter bleeding worthy of triage. It feels like they walked into the den of a dynasty and should’ve walked out with more.

They spoke of being greedy and not settling for a mere split. Instead, they turned to a giving mood, allowing the Warriors to score 33 points off their 19 turnovers.


The Celtics were throwing this game away before Golden State achieved lift-off in the third.

After blitzing the Warriors by 24 points in the fateful fourth quarter of Game 1, the Celtics got shellshocked and shellacked to the tune of 35-14 in a cataclysmic third. The Warriors found their rhythm and the range, shooting 7 of 12 on 3-pointers after registering just six threes total on 16 attempts in the first half.

Following the game, the Celtics got the third degree about their third-quarter issues. Players said it has been discussed ad nauseam. Al Horford was confident it could be fixed and called it a mind-set. But no one had an explanation for why it keeps happening.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” said Jaylen Brown (17 points). “We’ve just got to come out and play basketball for 48 minutes. We do the best we can every single night, and it’s gotten us to the Finals. We’re not a perfect team, but we’ll figure it out going forward.

“We know the Warriors are a third-quarter team. We talked about it. They still came out and were able to go on a run. We’ve just got to be able to answer, and we didn’t tonight.”

Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Robert Williams look on in the final minutes of Sunday's Game 2 rout at the hands of the Warriors.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

They didn’t answer, and they had no answer for a Warriors team they had largely contained up to that point, especially with Klay Thompson struggling.


It was a vintage “gold-blooded” Golden State outburst. Curry rained 14 of his 29 points and drilled three of his five threes in the third.

After Brown, who cooled considerably from scoring 13 of the Celtics’ first 22 points, tied the game at 52 on the first points of the quarter, the Warriors went on a 13-2 run to open up a double-digit lead.

A technical foul on Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who won’t be sending holiday cards to the Zach Zarba-led officiating crew that let Draymond Green turn the game into sumo, led to a Curry free throw that opened up a 12-point lead (68-56).

The Celtics proved in Game 1 that a 12-point deficit could be surmounted.

It looked as if they might do it again when they got back-to-back threes from Grant Williams and Jayson Tatum, who hit six treys after hitting just one in the first game, to trim the lead in half.

Then Golden State fired up its deep-shooting Death Star to obliterate Boston’s rebellion, closing the quarter on a trademark 19-2 run that included five threes. Curry hit an obscene 30-footer from the Chase Center logo to make it 79-62 with 2:13 left.

Splash Brother-in-training Jordan Poole capped the barrage with a Steph impersonation, drilling back-to-back threes from East Bay in the final 29.7 seconds. Poole (17 points overall, including five threes) delivered the capstone of the soul-crushing quarter with a Curryesque 38-footer at the buzzer. That’s not a typo.


Jordan Poole hit some big shots from beyond the arc to spark the Warriors during a key stretch of Game 2.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Their Finals franchise-record point differential for a quarter propelled the Warriors to an 87-64 lead heading into the fourth. They pumped it up to 29, at which point Udoka pushed away from the table and turned for home, inserting white flag incarnate Aaron Nesmith.

The Warriors are a notorious third-quarter thunderclap outfit. It’s one of the hallmarks of their dynasty. This postseason, they’re averaging 121.1 points per 100 possessions in the third, the highest of any team that lasted more than six games.

“We didn’t play a great first half at all and we were down 2, gave away a lot of opportunities, and instead of tightening up in that area we did more of the same,” said Udoka.

“Those turnovers and poor offense contributed to their runs. A team that scores as well as they do, we don’t need to help them out.”

Ime Udoka and the coaching staff are eyeing a turnaround in Game 3.Ezra Shaw/Getty

Now, the Celtics are hoping for better luck with thirds in Game 3, as the series shifts to TD Garden. Horford turned Belichickian in his appraisal.

“It is what it is,” he said. “On to Game 3. I can’t wait to get to the Garden. I know it’s going to be rocking on Wednesday.”

But it was the Celtics who got rocked once again in a third quarter, otherwise they might be returning home two wins from Banner No. 18 instead of three.

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Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @cgasper.