1. Boston bounces back. It’s what they do.
Sometimes it’s from game-to-game, but sometimes it happens in-game too.
There were two stretches where the Boston Celtics took the Golden State Warriors best punches in Game 3. They settled down, refocused and took back control of the game.
Midway through the second quarter, the Celtics had a 17-point lead. Al Horford very uncharacteristically missed two free throws. That started a rough stretch for Boston that went:
· Klay Thompson three-pointer
· Jayson Tatum missed floater
· Andrew Wiggins dunk
· Marcus Smart turnover
· Stephen Curry three-pointer
Ime Udoka called a timeout and got everyone settled down. The Warriors scored again, but then the Celtics got things back under control. Derrick White had a big three-point play, Jaylen Brown made a couple of hoops and Smart made up for a rough stretch with two layups to close out the half.
In the third quarter, Golden State came out with their typical avalanche. A 12-0 run over the middle minutes of the period gave the Warriors an 83-82 lead. Celtics fans would be forgiven if they thought “Here we go again” because it was that bad.
But then Ime Udoka took a timeout and called his team a few choice words. Then, Smart hit a few jumpers, Tatum hit some free throws, Grant Williams did some work off the bench and Boston had retaken control of the game by the end of the third quarter.
Then, similar to Game 1, the Celtics suffocated the Warriors in the fourth quarter. Golden State shot just 5-of-15 overall and 1-of-9 on three-pointers in the final frame. The Warriors also turned it over eight times. Boston wasn’t the offensive juggernaut that they were in Game 1’s fourth quarter, but they did more than enough to pull away and empty the bench with a couple of minutes remaining.
Yes, it would be nice if the Celtics just made it easy once and a while. But that’s not who they are. Boston is a roller coaster, and, in the end, roller coasters are fun. Even if you don’t always recognize it during the terrifying moments when you’re on the ride.
2. Jaylen Brown was a man on a mission to open Game 3. He scored 17 points in the first quarter and multiple Celtics said postgame that Brown “set the tone for the physicality we wanted to play with”.
In Game 2, Draymond Green got up into Brown’s space and it seemed to throw Brown off. In Game 3, Brown didn’t back down from the physical play, and he used his athleticism and smarts to win too.
This is good spacing from Brown. He gives Marcus Smart an outlet to make the nice extra pass:
On this play, Andrew Wiggins sees Brown is setting up to go by Green, so he cheats over a step. Brown’s on-time with the pass to Al Horford:
Brown is locked in early. He’s telling Derrick White to stay away and to not bring his defender into the picture. That’s because Brown knows he can get by Green:
The possession before this one, Brown missed a layup. There’s no sulking or pouting. Brown puts his head down and blows by Green for the lefty finish:
The Celtics needed a lift and they needed to set the tone. Jaylen Brown provided both right out of the gate.
3. Minus a few head-scratching turnovers, Marcus Smart played a really balanced game. He played his typically good defense, made some plays as a passer and hit some jumpers. But where Smart really excelled was at attacking the basket.
Boston went at Stephen Curry with regularity in this one. Smart may be Boston’s best post-up player. This play has great spacing, and Smart does well to get to a good shot for him:
As the Celtics were regaining control late in the first half, Smart made two big plays heading into the break. This is good floor balance and Smart knows he can take Otto Porter Jr. off the bounce in the 3-for-2 scenario:
On the next trip, Smart is trying to preserve the 2-for-1 and he does a great job getting into Andrew Wiggins for the strong finish:
Then, to effectively end the game, Smart overpowered Stephen Curry again:
When the Celtics needed him to step up, Marcus Smart did. Loved and trusted.
4. Game 3 was probably the best Robert Williams has looked since he came back from injury. His defense at the rim was palpable, even when Williams didn’t record a block or contest. He had the Warriors thinking about him all game long. He also did great work on the boards, and he was one of the best defensive bigs on the perimeter for Boston too.
Williams’ ability to help control drivers, and then turn to take a shot away at the rim is outstanding:
This sequence is amazing. Williams contests at the arc, then he recovers to his man, and then he helps in the paint and swats the floater:
Williams has great hands. This is an outstanding catch, and it’s a sign he’s feeling pretty good when he can make plays like this:
This is just great hustle to get back and to take away a layup. Nice find from Jaylen Brown to Al Horford with Stephen Curry pinned at the end of the play too:
It’s unclear how Williams will wake up feeling each morning. Ime Udoka said Williams is “truly day-to-day” and the team doesn’t know what he’ll be able to give them. In Game 3, Williams gave the Celtics everything. Let’s hope there’s more to come during the rest of the series.
5. In the first couple of games of the NBA Finals, the Warriors did a good job on the glass. In Game 3, Boston stayed big for most of the game and they dominated the boards. Boston had 15 offensive rebounds, which is nearly a 33% offensive rebounding rate.
In all, four different Celtics had three offensive rebounds. That helped Boston to a 22-11 advantage in second-chance points. That’s creating extra offense when the shots won’t fall.
6. The Celtics had 28 assists on 43 baskets. Four players had between five and nine assists. Helping that passing be excellent was some really good spacing, off-ball movement and positioning.
This is how you beat a zone. Al Horford gets into the middle, kicks it out and then everything is widened out and Derrick White finds Al Horford again for the easy dunk:
The Warriors are the masters of the dribble into the back-cut. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown beat them at their own game here:
Smart is the recipient on this one, as he and Jayson Tatum caught Stephen Curry ball-watching:
Speaking of sleeping…Horford is begging the official for the ball here. Then he drops the bomb on Brown for the touchdown. Tom Brady and Randy Moss would be proud of this effort:
7. In Games 1 and 2, Jayson Tatum was driving and looking for contact. In Game 3, it was like Tatum realized no calls were coming, but neither was any sort of great rim protection.
This one is late in the shot-clock. Tatum doesn’t settle for the step-back. He gets downhill against Kevon Looney for the layup:
Andrew Wiggins has done a nice enough job guarding Tatum, but he’s not going to keep him corralled for long:
Boston went at Stephen Curry a lot. Here, Tatum and Marcus Smart work to get the matchup, then Tatum is off to the rim. Importantly, he’s not looking for the foul here. Just the finish:
Finally, because he’s getting to the basket at will, Tatum attracts almost the whole defense here. That opens up the easy kickout pass to Smart:
In Game 1, Tatum was a playmaker. In Game 2, he got his jumper going. In Game 3, Tatum played his most complete game of the NBA Finals to date.
8. Boston’s recovery defense is excellent. In Game 3, it was on full display.
Stopping the Warriors in transition in priority one for the Celtics. From there, it’s about recovering to shooters, which Al Horford does perfectly here:
More goodness from Horford here. This is an outstanding steal in transition and it setup the highlight from Jayson Tatum to Jaylen Brown:
Sometimes that recovery comes via helping out a teammate. Rob Williams picks up for Grant Williams here and sends this shot into the seats:
If you want to win a championship, it takes multiple efforts. Brown epitomizes that here. He sticks with Klay Thompson at the arc to take away the jumper to start the play. Then, as Thompson makes a smart cut, Brown recovers to block the layup:
Multiple efforts, picking up for one another, making plays. The 2022 Boston Celtics defense.
9. It’s easy for it to get lost because the starting five made a million plays between them, but Grant Williams was excellent in Game 3. The Celtics don’t win without his contributions.
This shot was huge, as it helped Boston recover from Golden State’s big third quarter run. Plus, Grant Williams in the corner office is cash money:
Grant Williams didn’t shrink when Draymond Green started his antics early in the game. He stood right there and gave it right back. And when Boston needed it, Williams made the big boy plays like this one:
10. Ime Udoka didn’t want to discuss specific strategies in the postgame, but he did address the seemingly staggering amount of drop coverage Boston is playing against pick-and-rolls where Stephen Curry is the ballhandler. Udoka said the Celtics changed some thing up as the game went along, which is true. They showed help via blitzes and traps a few times, and the bigs were better about being up at the level of the ball.
Also, it’s a mixed bag. If you press up on Curry, the Warriors cutting lanes open up. That’s when they get you in the spin cycle, and the ball often makes its way back to Curry. The Celtics seem willing to live with some threes to avoid getting scrambled. It’s a dangerous game, but Boston is walking that tightrope ok for now.
11. You need some luck to win a title. It comes in all forms. The bank was open late in Boston on Wednesday night:
12. Every game needs a capper. Al Horford and Robert Williams provided it and sent the TD Garden crowd into hysterics at the end of Game 3:
13. Having a 2-1 lead for the Boston Celtics is great. But they know the 2022 NBA Finals are far from over. Ime Udoka told his team after the game “We’ve done this after losses. Now, we have to do it after a win.”
The Celtics have made things more difficult on themselves than they’ve had to be all postseason. Maybe they’ll turn the corner, but that corner is coming up rapidly. For the only time in the series, there’s just one day off in between games. That’s big for both teams, as several players are banged up and dealing with various issues.
Yet, there’s almost a sense that the Celtics just want to keep going. And there’s a feeling they’re up to this task, not wearing down or backing down. So, the next game is both too close, but also can’t come soon enough.
Game 4 of the 2022 NBA Finals is Friday, June 11 in Boston at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.