BOSTON — It was only the second quarter, but the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum seemed determined to build a theme as he saw an opportunity on Wednesday night. He took a hard dribble on Stephen Curry, then turned right, went straight into the paint, and put a layup on his smaller defender.
The Celtics are eager to get familiar with the rim in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. So they used their size to bully various members of the Golden State Warriors in the post and off the dribble. They try to lay up. They dunk. They threw short jumpers off the glass.
Along the way, Boston even survived Golden State’s iconic third quarter, beating TD Garden 116-100 and taking a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is on Friday in Boston.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter with a healthy cushion led by Jaylen Brown, who had 27 points and nine rebounds. Tatum had 26 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds, and Marcus Smart had 24 points. Curry had 31 points in the loss and Klay Thompson had 25. The Celtics did most of their damage in the paint as they beat the Golden State Warriors 52-26.
After the first two games were in San Francisco, the series moved to Boston, an appropriate venue for the Finals as the league celebrated the final embers of its 75th anniversary. The Celtics are chasing their 18th championship, and the Golden State Warriors are reaching the Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.
The league’s two original teams, the Celtics and Warriors, now mirror each other in another important way: Both lineups are largely draft-built. While Boston is in the Finals for the first time since 2010, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said he wants to emulate the long-term success of the Golden State Warriors.
“It’s a model of what we want to do here,” Udoka said.
The Celtics, who lost Game 2 on Sunday, have not lost in a row this postseason. Ahead of Wednesday’s game, Udoka mentioned his team’s resilience.
“I think we quickly left it behind,” he said, “and kind of attacked areas where we weren’t doing well and tried to improve those areas.”
About an hour and a half before Game 3, when some Golden State Warriors players were on the court for personal warm-up work, reserve guard Gary Payton II noticed that one of the baskets seemed a little off.He was right: about two inches too high.
“It happens every once in a while,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said before the game. “Players have a very keen eye on this.”
The rims dropped to a decent 10 feet in no time, but that didn’t seem to help. Golden State got off to a rough start, missing 11 of its first 15 shots as Boston led 24-9. To make matters worse, Curry fouled twice early.
If there’s one concern for the Celtics, it’s Tatum’s right shoulder, which he injured for the first time in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. On Wednesday, he grimaced in pain after an early kickoff foul.
But his 3-pointer midway through the second gave the Celtics an 18-point lead. Boston shot 57.4 percent from the field to lead 68-56 at halftime.
However, all eyes were on the start of the second half. In both Games 1 and 2, Golden State dominated the third quarter, outscoring Boston by 35 points. The third quarter was especially problematic for the Celtics in Game 2, when they made 4 of 17 shots and committed five turnovers to lead 35-14. A close game quickly turned into a rout.
Golden State trailed by nine on Wednesday when the team called for more magic in the third quarter. Curry made a 3-pointer and soaked up the touch well when the Celtics’ Al Horford slid under him. It was ruled a flagrant foul, meaning Golden State would retain possession after the free throw.
Curry hit a free throw, then Otto Porter Jr. hit another 3-pointer to hold seven points and cut Boston’s lead to two.
It was an anxious time for the Celtics, who could have folded but once again showed their toughness. Smart made a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. Moments later, Grant Williams grabbed an offensive rebound, forcing Kerr to call for a timeout amid the roar of the home crowd.