Thursday , July 7 2022

The Celtics’ fourth-quarter deluge beat the Warriors at their own game | NBA finals

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, whether competing in the National Spelling Bee or Thursday night’s other high-profile, high-pressure contest, the first game of the NBA finals.

Al Horford kept it simple. No fancy phraseology, no straining for meaning. “My guys found me tonight and I knocked ‘em down,” Horford said on ABC after his central role in the Boston Celtics’ stunning and strange 120-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors. “A lot of fun.”

A contest that began with the Stephen Curry three-point production line working overtime ended with the much less predictable spectacle of Horford scoring from distance and inspiring his teammates to do the same as they overturned a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

A 15-year NBA veteran making his first finals appearance a day before his 36th birthday, Horford top-scored for the Celtics with 26 points, including a career-high six three-pointers. In the joint-most dominant quarter in NBA finals history, the Celtics were rampant towards the end, sinking seven three-pointers in succession on the way to going nine for 12.

In total 40 three-pointers were sunk: a finals record. Curry, the greatest beyond-the-arc shooter the NBA has ever known, contributed six of them in the first quarter alone. That was a Finals record, too. And set at Chase Center in front of celebrities including the former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who knows a thing or two about going long.

Curry was so good so early in this game that it did not feel indulgent to rush ahead and imagine what he might accomplish over the remainder of a series that plenty of pundits have tipped to last the full seven-game distance. It’s a curious piece of trivia that the 34-year-old has an Oscar (as executive producer of the 2022 best documentary short, The Queen of Basketball) but not an NBA finals MVP award.

But the Celtics adjusted and quit retreating from Curry as if he was wielding a hand grenade rather than a basketball. He didn’t score any points in the second quarter and only added one more three-pointer, ending up with a game-high 34.

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry didn’t score any points in the second quarter following a blistering start, finishing with a game-high 34 points. Photograph: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A tight score belied the body language for much of the game: one side smooth, the other straining, as a less experienced Boston team struggled to keep up with opponents making their sixth finals appearance in eight years.

The Warriors had won all nine of their home postseason games going into Thursday’s match and their big third quarter seemed to spell doom for the visitors, especially with the advantage of an extra three days’ rest.

Golden State had Curry to thank for keeping them close as the teams traded punches. The scoring rate was so rapid there was barely enough time to draw breath, let alone form any thoughts along the lines of: hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a clash of two great defenses?

Then Boston broke loose, with Jaylen Brown and Horford, rather than Jayson Tatum, leading the charge, as Horford did in his 30-point performance in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the playoffs. Even so, a 17-0 scoring run during a 40-16 final period in Boston’s favor was an unimaginable outcome.

While an eighth-grader grappled with “encomium” in the spelling contest, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr provided a textbook example of its definition: an expression of high praise.

“Boston just played a brilliant quarter,” he told reporters. “Give them credit, I mean they made 21 threes, they were moving the ball really well and they had us on our heels. They made a good push to start the fourth and they kept that momentum going. It’s going to be tough to beat Boston if they’re making 21 threes and getting a combined eleven from Horford and [Derrick] White.”

Curry had a strong evening and the Warriors put themselves in a winning position with relative ease – yet ended up losing heavily at home. What does it all mean going forward, with Game 2 in San Francisco on Sunday? “We’ll figure it out, watch the film,” said the Warriors power forward Draymond Green, suggesting that Boston’s three-point eruption was a freakish event. “We’ll be fine.”

While the result and the meltdown were aberrant and confounding for Golden State, the night’s work was more like business as usual for the Celtics, adaptable and unbowed. “That’s kind of who we’ve been all year,” said Boston head coach Ime Udoka. “Tough, grinders, a resilient group.”

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