The Warriors’ all-time collapse in the NBA Finals was about more than Celtics’ hot shooting

Everything we thought we knew about the 2022 NBA Finals was blown to pieces in Game 1.

The Boston Celtics should be the more physically exhausted team after enduring two intense seven-game series against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks to win the Eastern Conference. The Golden State Warriors should be bolstered by the championship experience that came with their three rings and six NBA Finals appearances in eight years. When push came to shove, great offense should beat great defense, which was another advantage for Golden State.

The Warriors appeared to be on course to victory through three quarters of Game 1. Stephen Curry hit six threes in the first period alone. Jayson Tatum couldn’t get a shot all night. Golden State beat the Celtics to the offensive glass throughout the game and let a roleplayer step up with a great performance when Otto Porter Jr. shot 4-of-5 from three-point range.

All of this helped the Warriors to a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. What happened from there was simultaneously one of the great meltdowns and great comebacks in NBA Finals history.

The Celtics stormed back and defeated Golden State 120-108 to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Boston did, beating the Warriors 40-16 in the fourth quarter. The margin of +24 in the last frame set an all-time NBA Finals record.

The Celtics got ridiculously hot from three-point range in the fourth quarter

It’s easy to cite Boston’s hot shooting from behind the arc as the main reason they were able to steal Game 1. The Celtics hit 9 of 12 three-pointers in the fourth quarter. They ended the night 21 of 41 from three-point range – good for 51.2 percent.

On a night that Tatum shot a total of 3 out of 17, Boston’s role players performed. Al Horford went 6-of-8 from three. Derrick White went 5-of-8 from three. Marcus Smart went 4-of-7 of three. Jaylen Brown also scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter that night.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr immediately brought up Boston’s shooting after the game.

Of course he wasn’t wrong. But if the Warriors reduce this breakdown to a simple deviation from the other team, they could be in big trouble.

The Celtics’ defense completely eliminated the Warriors in the fourth quarter

The Celtics opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to immediately put a big dent in the deficit when Curry was benched to start the frame. Curry helped his team get going soon after he checked back in, first assisting a three-pointer from Klay Thompson and then hitting a middle-range shot and a floater himself.

The floater gave the Warriors a 103-100 lead by 6:05. Golden State didn’t score another field goal until the 1:09 mark of the fourth quarter.

Boston went through those five minutes on a 17-0 run to complete their game-stealing game.

The Warriors went 0-to-5 over that stretch. They also had two turnovers, a bizarre offensive foul call on Curry, and a 0-for-2 mark from the foul line. Boston blitzed them with some hard shots at the other end, but the bigger problem for the Warriors is how nervous their offense looked.

Just look at Boston’s swarming defense on this possession:

The Warriors executed the kind of off-ball action that has defined their offense since the beginning of their dynasty, but the Celtics were in full swing. Derrick White checks Curry, Thompson and Poole for this possession. Horford checks Wiggins, Curry doubles, then sprints to the corner to defend Thompson. All five Celtics defenders are just completely trapped and possession eventually ends with Wiggins missing a contested three-pointer.

That’s just one example of how good the Celtics’ defense was during this stretch. Horford had the length to sideline Green to force a turnover. Brown locked in Thompson on possession and allowed Tatum to bat the ball away with a hard dig into the paint. Even Curry couldn’t shake Payton Pritchard on an iso.

A great attack only beats a great defense if the attack is really great. It wasn’t the Warriors’ offense. The Celtics defense certainly was.

The Warriors gave up some wide-open Celtics looks from three

Of course, the Celtics aren’t going to shoot 51 percent from three on a high number of tries in every game. But it must also be noted that Golden State gave up some wide open looks.

Here are a few triples from Boston in the fourth quarter. None of this is disputed.

Golden State’s defense ranked No. 2 in the NBA behind the Celtics during the regular season, but they gave away many looks from three. The Warriors opponents took nearly 38 percent of their field goal attempts out of three in the season, which ranked 21st in the league.

Boston has four or five shootouts on the floor in every lineup they play. Even if Boston doesn’t have that Great Shooters after Tatum and Brown, they’re competent enough to hit shots and have been hot throughout the playoffs.

The Warriors can’t just hope the Celtics will be missed

That felt like a bizarre quote from Green after Game 1.

The Warriors lost because their offense failed to crack Boston’s defense late in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. The Warriors lost because their defense gave way too many open looks from three. Poole in particular was a thorn in his side defensively all night. Porter was kind of -18, despite hitting 80 percent of his three-pointers.

The Warriors had Game 1 in the bag and let it slip away. That it happened on a night when Tatum was filming 3 of 17 should only make her feel worse. If there’s one area where the Warriors’ championship pedigree will show, it would be in their ability not to be too downhearted after this loss – because every other team should be devastated when it’s on your home soil this late in the game such leadership gambles away.

The Warriors have real things to do to get ahead, even as they hope Boston misses shots.

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