After spending the past two days listening to questions about whether they were capable of matching the Warriors’ physicality and toughness, the Celtics took the floor in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and showed they would not be pushed around. Not at home. Not on this stage. Not on this night.
Chasing offensive rebounds as if they were dinner and attacking the rim with determination and focus, the Celtics set the tone with their aggression and never stopped, rolling to a 116-100 win Wednesday night at TD Garden for a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 will be played at TD Garden on Friday night.
Jaylen Brown had 27 points and nine rebounds, Jayson Tatum had 26 points and nine assists, and Marcus Smart added 24 points and seven rebounds for Boston. The Celtics gobbled up 15 offensive rebounds, scored 22 second-chance points, and held a 52-26 edge in points in the paint.
Stephen Curry had 31 points to lead the Warriors.
The Celtics led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but the third quarter was once again their undoing, as the Warriors roared back and took an 83-82 lead on a Curry 3-pointer with 3:45 left. But Golden State’s advantage was gone 33 seconds later when Smart drilled a 3-pointer, and Boston never trailed again.
Observations from the game:
▪ The Celtics have still yet to lose consecutive games in the playoffs, and they’ve done it just once since January. If they can maintain this streak now, they’ll become NBA champions.
“We’ve done this after losses,” coach Ime Udoka said. “Let’s respond the right way after wins now.”
▪ The third quarter felt like a disaster for the Celtics. The Warriors made seven 3-pointers and even had a 7-point possession when Curry had a 4-point play that was the result of a flagrant foul that was followed by another 3-pointer. But in the end, Boston was outscored by 8 points in the period and it took a 4-point lead to the fourth. The Celtics stayed upright by doing enough to answer at the other end.
“We didn’t fall off a cliff offensively like we did in other games,” Udoka said.
The fourth quarter was more familiar, because the league’s top-ranked defense looked like it. Golden State scored just 11 points, committed eight turnovers, made 1 of 9 3-pointers, and did not grab a single offensive rebound.
▪ The Celtics’ hustle and effort was best encapsulated by one play late in the fourth. There was a wild scrum for a loose ball near Boston’s basket following a miss by Tatum, and there were several moments when it looked like a jump ball would be called. But the teams played on, Smart surged into the fray, and came up with the ball before drawing Draymond Green’s sixth foul. The crowd loved it.
▪ Robert Williams still didn’t appear to be moving particularly well on his troublesome left knee in the first half. But he had enough, and his timing remains elite. The Warriors challenged him a few times in the opening half and had their offerings sent back with little trouble. And he actually appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. In the fourth quarter he was everywhere, whether keeping offensive rebounds alive at one end or challenging shots at the other. Williams had 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals in the fourth quarter alone.
“When he’s protecting the paint and moving the way he’s moving, it makes us that much more dangerous,” Smart said.
▪ Just three minutes into the game, Udoka replaced Williams with guard Derrick White, going with the smaller lineup that was so effective during the fourth-quarter comeback in Game 1. This seemed to be a planned decision by Udoka rather than a reactive one, since the Celtics had a 12-4 lead at the time. But the difference in pace and spacing with just one big on the floor was obvious over the rest of the first half. But even when the Celtics had single-big groups, they never let up on the offensive glass.
▪ Curry and Klay Thompson combined to hit 11 of 24 3-pointers and score 56 points. The Celtics have to feel pretty good about rolling to a win on a night when both sizzled for much of the night.
▪ Curry picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter but stayed in the game. Although he wasn’t called for his third during that stint or the one that followed in the second quarter, it was clear he was very aware of avoiding it, and the Celtics took advantage by attacking him for a few easy hoops. It’s an example of how foul trouble can cause issues even when a player is in the game.
▪ Green shifted the tenor of this series with his physicality and his words during Game 2, so it was no surprise that he was the target of vitriol by the fans at the Garden. He was booed when he touched the ball and chants were directed, some laced with expletives, during the first half. And he never put his fingerprints on Game 3. His frustration was visible at times, and he finished with 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Most importantly, Golden State was outscored by 13 points with Green on the floor.
▪ Brown and Green, who tangled in the second quarter of Game 2, had a couple of fiery moments in the first half of Game 3. Once, with Green on him, Brown waved off a screen and attacked for a layup. Soon after, Green swatted Brown’s transition layup attempt out of bounds and barked something at Brown after he crashed to the floor. Brown calmly took the ensuing inbounds pass, drove on Green, and scored. Brown erupted for 17 points in the first quarter, another powerful start for him.
▪ The Celtics missed just 20 shots in the first half, and they grabbed offensive rebounds on eight of them. Yes, they shot the ball well from the perimeter before the break, but they really stretched their lead because after being outmuscled in Game 2, they showed that they can be physical, too.
▪ Curry picked up his fourth foul early in the third, but once again, Steve Kerr kept him in the game, and it paid off. Curry scored 9 points during the Warriors’ 17-6 run that gave them an 83-82 lead, their first since the game’s opening minute. The Celtics quickly took the lead back, but third quarters continue to be a disaster. Udoka should probably consider at least a minor lineup shift after halftime, perhaps White in for Williams.