Celtics went back to their roots in Game 3

Published June 10, 2022, 12:50 PMPolo Bustamante

The Celtics bullied the Warriors by being aggressive on both ends of the floor to take a 2-1 series lead.

After Game 2 of the 2022 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors spoke proudly of how they changed their mindset after the Game 1 loss. Draymond Green spoke about force. Steve Kerr lauded his team’s intensity. Steph Curry was happy with their adjustments. 

One of the key adjustments they made was assigning Green to defend Jaylen Brown. That move took away one key weapon for the Boston Celtics - something they weren’t able to recover from.

In Game 3, the Warriors came out with the same matchups. Green was once again on Brown. Except this time, that ploy didn’t work. Brown equaled his output from Game 2 in the first period of Game 3. He scored 17 points to open the game to lead his team to an early double-digit lead. What changed?

“That's how I play. I feel like I can get by any defender that's in front of me. So just having the right spacing made it a little easier for me to make those reads for our team. Spacing is important. But I'll get by my defender every night,” Brown said.

Brown was in attack mode. He wasn’t going to allow Green to bully him anymore. He wasn’t settling for his outside shot even after hitting a couple of 3s to start the game. He took it to the rack for most of the first period, getting past Green and finishing hard at the rim. Brown had 27 points on 56 percent shooting in Game 3.

“I give JB credit for the way he came out and started the game. We just followed his lead after that,” shared Marcus Smart.

He set the tone for the Celtics and that became the mindset of the team in Game 3. Enough with the pretty ball. It was time to mess up Golden State’s face.

Smart stopped falling in love with the 3-ball and took it strong to the hoop instead. Jayson Tatum still played his silky smooth game. But he wasn’t getting fancy when he got into the lane anymore - he was bulldozing whoever was in his way. Al Horford punished guys on the block. 

After being limited to just 24 points in the paint in Game 2, Boston bullied their way to 52 points in the paint in Game 3. They grabbed 15 offensive boards and scored 22 second-chance points compared to just six offensive rebounds and six second-chance points in the last game. It was exactly how the Warriors spoke of their Game 2 win. The Celtics played with more force and more intensity in Game 3.

“Game 2, they brought the heat to us. For us, that left a bad taste in our mouth because what we hang our hat on is effort on the defensive end and being a physical team. It definitely woke us up a little bit,” Smart explained.

That energy was evident on the defensive end as well. If Brown set the tone on offense, it was Robert Williams III who took the lead on defense. Playing through an injury, Williams III was still ferocious on defense, prowling the paint to erase weak attempts by the Warriors. He had four blocks, three steals, and 10 rebounds in the game. Williams playing well gives the Celtics an advantage the Warriors can’t counter: size.

“Not only the shots that he did block -- I think he got four tonight -- but the ones he altered and his presence down there of course deters guys from driving. He was a big part of what we did. Staying big tonight, getting those 15 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points,” explained coach Ime Udoka. 

Even when Golden State went on their patented third quarter run, Boston wasn’t fazed. Their game plan was working. It was just time to turn up the volume in the final period.

“They're a great team. They've got great players. They're going to make shots. They're going to go on runs. But it's all about how you respond,” said Tatum.

The Celtics responded to the Warriors’ third-period barrage by making life extremely difficult for them in the fourth quarter. The space Golden State had in the third quarter was absolutely erased. Williams and Horford stepped out to defend the Warriors’ shooters. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and Grant Williams hounded everyone else off the ball. Boston took away all of the Warriors’ breathing room, limited them to just 11 points and five made baskets to close the game.

“We didn't hold our head down or anything. We called a timeout, regrouped, figured it out, and made winning plays. I was definitely proud of the group for that,” added Tatum.

After Game 1, it seemed like the Celtics were happy to try to outgun the Warriors. That didn’t turn out so well for them in Game 2. Rather than come up with a new gameplan, they doubled down on what’s worked for them so far this year. They’re never going to be as entertaining as the Curry-led Warriors. So, if they can’t be them, beat them. To a pulp. Boston did just that to Golden State in Game 3 and now they’re two wins away from Banner 18.