BOSTON – Once again, the Celtics found themselves pumped up by the Golden State Warriors in the third quarter.
And as Stephen Curry’s 3-pointer fell through basketball with 3 minutes, 45 seconds to go in the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night, capping 10-0 Golden State and making the Warriors 83-82, there was a collective groan from the sold-out crowd. Inside TD Garden:
here we go again.
Only, for the second time in the series, the Celtics found a way to respond to the Warriors’ punch in the jaw in the third quarter with their haymaker in the fourth, limiting Golden State to just 11 points in the fourth. Boston went on to win 116-100, lifting the Cs to the 2-1 lead.
“I felt like our team was well-prepared in those moments,” Celtics’ Al Horford said. “You know, earlier in the year, that could have gone south quickly.
“But we stayed right with it and locked it up and didn’t panic and just kept playing.”
As Horford hinted, the Boston team hasn’t been able to do that all season. But since the Celtics upended their campaign for good in late January, they’ve proven incredibly resilient. Wednesday’s third game win saw Boston improve to 7-0 in this playoff game after loss, with the Celtics not losing consecutive games after this season.
Since January. 23, the Celtics went 13-1 in the games after the loss.
“I think that’s kind of when we turned our season around, when we got past that corner,” Boston striker Jason Tatum said. “Earlier in the season we were slipping up the lead and losing games like that, while now – things happen, right. It’s a great team. They have great players. They’ll shoot. You’ll keep running. But it’s all about how you respond.
“We didn’t stop our head or anything. We called a timeout, regrouped, understood that and won plays. I was definitely proud of the group for that.”
The Celtics had to do that because they again failed to gain any strength in the third quarter. Golden State has now edged Boston by 43 points in the third three quarters so far in the series, as the Warriors have repeatedly managed to turn the Celtics into a defensive contract.
This, of course, is led by Stephen Curry, who finished with 31 points in shooting 12 to 22 in 37 minutes. He also earned seven points in the third quarter by hitting a 3 while being fouled by Horford, allowing Curry to hit the free throw, followed by Otto Porter Jr. Another demolition 3.
A minute later, Curry put on 3 Golden State—and put Boston back on heels.
But rather than collapse, the Celtics responded. They led 11-6 during the last few minutes of the third quarter to break their lead heading into the fourth. From there, the Celtics outpaced Golden State by 23-11, carrying the Warriors only one basket through the first three minutes as Boston sprinted into a brisk 9-2 run to amplify their lead into double digits.
“For me, it was just preparation,” Celtics goalkeeper Marcus Smart said. “Just stay calm. We’ve been here before. It’s a really good team. They’ll keep running, but we are. We just have to pull back and go our way.”
Helped by that Boston was Robert Williams III to patrol the paint. While Tatum, Smart and Jaylen Brown all put in more than 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists – becoming the first trio of teammates to achieve the feat in an NBA Finals game since Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper did so for Los Angeles Los Lakers vs Celtics in 1984 Williams was the top team plus 21 in 25 minutes, finishing the game with eight points, 10 rebounds, four stopping shots and a mountain of play.
“It changed the rules of the game,” Horford said of Williams. “Rob is really a game changer. We are so fortunate to have a guy like this impact the win the way he does, because he goes above numbers with him. It’s just all the things he brings, being in the right places. I was so impressed with Rob, just his ability to keep going. to improve and learn.
“He’s learning. We talk to him, I feel like we can ask him a lot and he always takes it, sets it up and it’s better. But his stuff goes beyond the outcome of the box, the impact on the game.”
Williams saw that effect fluctuate from game to game during these qualifying sessions, as he had been dealing with problems with his left knee for more than two months. He had meniscus surgery on that knee at the end of March, which knocked him out at the end of the regular season and the start of Boston’s first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
He then suffered a bone bruise in the same knee in the Boston’s second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, which caused him to miss the last three games of that series as well as the third game of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. Since then, Williams has been called into question every game – only to be cleared in the hours leading up to the warning.
“It was tough,” Williams said of dealing with his knee. “Throw it all in. It’s usually the afternoon after the match, obviously the adrenaline is going down. But we did a few different things today, we rode the bike a little earlier before the match. I took advantage of that.”
He was clearly satisfied. Williams was everywhere on the field, scrambling frequently for loose balls, flying across the fairway to intercept shots and constantly finding himself at the center of the action.
“I talk to Rob constantly, just for the simple fact that I know what he’s going through,” Smart said. “He’s in pain, and even though he’s been hurt, he still wants to go out and help his team. But at the same time, he’s thinking about his career. As I just told him, ‘You know your body.'” You know what you can withstand and what you can’t. But just know, we have a chance to do something special. There are no guarantees that we will return here. If you can go, we’ll take 20 percent of you better than nothing for you.’
“He got it, and he decided to go out there and put on his little pants and suck it up and go crazy.”
The Celtics spent the three days between the ugly loss of Game 2 and Game 3 talking about the need to play with more energy and effort. That message was clear from the opening advice, as Boston immediately set the tone with their physical play on both ends. Boston won the rebound 16 times, including grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, and didn’t allow Golden State to speed things up, only making 12 turns — including just one in the fourth quarter.
As a result, Boston is now two wins away from the championship. Having recovered from a loss again – as well as a physical blow from the Warriors during the match itself – the Celtics must now do what they have failed to do regularly in these playoffs: respond in this way to win.
“Another comeback from us,” Celtics coach Im Odoka said. My message to the group was, ‘We did this after the losses; Let’s respond in the right way after winning now.”