NBA Finals 2022 – Boston Celtics use size, quickness to regain control of series in Game 3

For all the praise for skill and small ball in recent years, the NBA still rewards size and speed in big moments. In the first Finals game at TD Garden since 2010, the Boston Celtics used their speed, distance and physical superiority to defeat the Golden State Warriors 116-100 in Game 3 and take a 2-1 straight lead.

The Celtics have built their championship aspirations on the strength of their top-flight defense and the explosiveness of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, their pair of talented attackers. Both the Celtics’ defense and their wing tandem saw mixed results in San Francisco, where the teams split the first two games. But on Wednesday, Boston’s D showed his versatility while Brown and Tatum produced mature, intoxicating performances that took control of the game in the first half.

In his first six NBA seasons, Brown has traditionally generated many of his chances from flow rather than set playcalls. In game 3 he asserted himself as the initiator in the half field game of the Celtics. Brown attacked relentlessly with assertive shots to the basket against the Warriors’ limited rim protection. When he encountered helping defenders, he moved the ball crisply. When the Warriors’ defensive rotations opened up quality views from across the arc in the river, Brown was happy to take them. He finished with 27 points overall, hit 9 of his 16 field goal attempts (including 4-on-8 from across the arc) and went 5-on-6 from the strip.

Tatum, who averaged 20 points in the first two finals games but shot less than 30% from the field, wasn’t his most dynamic or efficient performance (he averaged 26 points in 9-for-23 shooting on Wednesday), but thrived as playmaker. After Game 2, Celtics coach Ime Udoka attributed some of Tatum’s struggles to his penchant for chasing fouls. In Game 3, Tatum racked up nine assists against just one turnover largely by reading the Warriors’ defense and quickly finding teammates with smart crosscourt passes and kickouts.

For all their inside advantages, the Celtics gave themselves up to the wing and center in Game 2, attempting just six shots on the rim. In Game 3, Boston had attempted 14 shots to the rim and pulled four fouls by halftime, with Brown leading the offense. Those forays into color smeared the Celtics’ drive-and-kick game. While the Celtics didn’t see the sheer volume of 3-point attempts they made in San Francisco, they still generated a healthy 35 looks from across the arc and converted 37.1%. Boston also finished with a 52-26 point lead in the suit.

In a drill every bit as reliable as Stephen Curry’s warm-up routine, the Warriors staged their signature rally in the third quarter. After trailing in double figures for most of the night, Golden State briefly took the lead during a 14-3 run that included a seven point Possession of the ball for 13 seconds. The Celtics eventually withstood the onslaught, steadily increasing their lead despite Curry’s outbursts. As the game eluded the Warriors in the fourth quarter with just over two minutes to go, Celtics big man Al Horford landed on Curry’s left leg while diving for the ball. Curry limped off the floor and didn’t return — but neither did the other Warriors starters, with Golden State trailing 14.

The loss is particularly bitter for the Warriors, who have been eager to get Klay Thompson back in shape. Thompson scored 25 points on 17 tries, one of his better postseason efforts – but one that was wasted. The Warriors turned the ball 17 times and, more devastatingly, were crushed by their defensive glass, giving Boston 15 offensive rebounds. Golden State likes to call these two columns the “possession battle,” and it was one they decidedly lost.

During their first postseason chase in three years, the Warriors stressed that they are a different roster than the one that has won three titles in five Finals appearances. That was more evident in Game 3 than during their current title run. This Warriors team is a work in progress, and for all their collective basketball brilliance, there’s still work to be done.

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