SAN FRANCISCO — When the third quarter began Sunday night, the Celtics actually found themselves positioned to strike. Despite kicking the ball around, and despite their poor shooting, they trailed the Warriors by just two points.
The problem was that they were entering the segment of the night in which the Warriors tend to transform into world beaters, and the Celtics tend to turn into slop. And once play began, it became clear that neither trend would be reversed.
The Warriors began pouring in 3-pointers from all angles, and the Celtics began to crumble. After the dust had cleared, after Jordan Poole had heaved in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just inside midcourt for good measure, the Warriors had outscored Boston by 21 points.
This time, there would be no heroic comeback by the Celtics. This 107-88 Golden State win in Game 2 of the NBA Finals was so thorough that starters from both teams watched most of the fourth quarter from the bench. This series is tied at 1, and Game 3 will be played at TD Garden on Wednesday night.
For the Warriors, who outscored Boston, 35-14, in the third, it was an enjoyable experience. A chance to step back and enjoy the pulverization that preceded it.
For the Celtics, the clock could not expire fast enough.
“I thought everybody was more engaged, it was pretty obvious,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Just our level of force and physicality was ramped up quite a bit, and it had to be.”
Jayson Tatum had 28 points on 8 of 19 shooting for Boston. Jaylen Brown added 17, but 9 came in the first two and a half minutes, and he was just 2 for 14 after that. Coach Ime Udoka said that when Brown picked up his second foul and went to the bench midway through the quarter, it appeared to disrupt his rhythm.
Brown later called it a “phantom” foul call, accelerating a theme of the Celtics’ post-game press conferences.
With Warriors forward Draymond Green serving as the primary instigator, Golden State got under their skin. When Green, who already had one technical foul in the game, fouled Brown on a 3-pointer, the two had to be separated after tangling as they fell. If Green had been called for another technical, it would have been his second, and an ejection.
Udoka smirked a bit later and said he was not surprised, given the circumstance, that Green did not pick up a second. Udoka, whose frustration began to boil over, later picked up one of his own. When he was asked about it after the game, he paused for emphasis as he explained it.
“I just let them know how I felt throughout the game in a demonstrative way,” he said, “on purpose, to get a technical.”
But if the physicality, officiating, and general feel threw off Boston, it seemed to give the Warriors life, with Green leading the way.
“I think everybody played with more force,” he said. “It wasn’t just me on Jaylen Brown. It was across the board. If I just pick up my force and no one else does, it doesn’t work. It’s a total team effort, guys being ready to help when help is needed and guys taking on the challenge at the point of attack.”
Stephen Curry had 29 points to pace Golden State, which made 15 of 37 3-pointers as a team. The Warriors scored 33 points off of 19 Boston turnovers, thanks in large part to 15 steals.
In Game 1, the Celtics’ secondary options were given plenty of time and space on the perimeter, and they thrived. Al Horford, Derrick White, and Marcus Smart combined to drill 15 of 23 3-pointers, a perfect mixture of open looks and shot luck. After, Green smiled as he scanned the stat sheet and declared that he was not concerned about his team moving forward, because he did not anticipate that happening again.
On Sunday, Horford, Smart, and White were just 2 for 7 from beyond the arc. Horford didn’t take any, and he said he wasn’t even that close to having a clean look.
Golden State made some subtle adjustments, such as putting Green, its top defender, on Brown more frequently. And the return of Gary Payton II, who had been sidelined since fracturing his left elbow May 3, certainly helped. Udoka said that Boston’s inability to attack the paint closed off some of those opportunities. The turnovers hurt, too.
“They definitely upped their pressure a little bit, closed out a little more aggressive to each of us,” White said. “We’ve just got to make the play after that.”
Losses certainly never feel good, and the tenor of a series can certainly shift with a game as lopsided as this one. But the fact remains these Celtics, playing in the Finals for the first time, came to San Francisco and wrestled away homecourt advantage from a team that has lived in this round the last eight years.
And Boston has done an excellent job ensuring that one sloppy performance does not snowball into something bigger. The Celtics have not lost consecutive games during the postseason, and they have lost two in a row just once since January. That consistency will be tested against a Warriors team that is unlikely to be rattled by a road environment.
Brown, for one, hardly felt thrilled about bringing the series back to Boston tied.
“No satisfaction whatsoever,” he said. “Every game is its own story.”