The Golden State Warriors entered the night undefeated on their home floor during the 2022 NBA playoffs and for three quarters it looked like they would continue that trend in Game 1 of their NBA Finals series against the Boston Celtics. However, things changed in a major way over the course of the final 12 minutes of action as the visitors walked into Chase Center and outscored the Warriors 40-16 during the fourth quarter to come away with a 120-108 win.
The stars for both sides came to play as Stephen Curry led all scorers with a game-high 34 points while Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole combined for 44 points, nine rebounds and seven assists of their own. In the end, that was not enough to overcome the performance from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Derrick White as the road team was able to steal home-court advantage in Game 1.
Game 2 will take place on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
1. Celtics steal it with an incredible fourth quarter
The Celtics entered the fourth quarter in serious trouble down 12 points to a Warriors team that was 9-0 at home in the playoffs through the first three rounds. And when the frame started with Jayson Tatum missing two easy looks to continue his brutal shooting performance, it didn’t appear as though a comeback was in the cards.
That’s when Jaylen Brown took control. With Tatum struggling, the Celtics put the ball in his hands, and he started to make play after play. He either scored or assisted on 20 of the Celtics’ first 23 points of the fourth quarter, as they came storming back and finally tied the game with 5:40 remaining on a Derrick White 3-pointer that Brown assisted on. It would be hard to say enough about how important that stretch was from Brown. That was the exact scenario where they needed him to step up, and he did it in the biggest game of his career.
It appeared as though we would be in for a frantic finish, but instead the Celtics just kept rolling right along. They outscored the Warriors 17-5 over the final 5:40 to pull away for a double-digit win and a 1-0 series lead. The final fourth-quarter tally was 40-16 in favor of the Celtics. That 24-point margin was the largest in a fourth-quarter in Finals history.
While the Celtics played well in all aspects of the game in the final frame, the key factor was their 3-point shooting. They made their first seven attempts of the quarter from downtown and finished 9-of-11 in from deep the fourth. Even more impressive was that they had five different players make a 3-pointer during that stretch.
« Just continue to play, » Al Horford said after the win. « That was our message throughout the whole game. They’re such a good team. And for us, it was just, you know, continue to play no matter what. And our guys, that’s what we did. It wasn’t our best game, but we continued to fight and find different ways to get this win. »
2. White does it again
When the Celtics traded Josh Richardson, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2028 first-round pick swap to acquire Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs, there were some who worried that they gave up too much for a guy who wouldn’t even be in their starting lineup. As it turns out, they may not have given up enough.
White fit in seamlessly when he arrived at the deadline and has stepped up time and again during the playoffs, especially when Marcus Smart was dealing with injuries. On Thursday night, White did it again with perhaps his best performance yet. He finished with 21 points and three assists, knocked down a season-high five 3-pointers and played stellar defense all night long. Single-game plus-minus isn’t always the best indicator, but White being a team-high plus-25 in this game is no surprise.
His ability to dart around screens and stick with the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole while they run all over the floor is the primary reason he’s important in this series. Any offense the Celtics get from him is a bonus, and they hit the jackpot in Game 1. This was just the second time he’s scored 20-plus points in the playoffs, and he hit two massive 3s during their fourth-quarter run.
« [White was doing a] little bit of everything, » Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said. « Obviously going five for eight from three. Purpose playmaking, shot-making and defense. You talk about we don’t have much drop-off when Marcus goes out and he comes in, his size and versatility on the defensive end, playing ability to get guys involved and be aggressive on offense was huge tonight. »
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3. Horford’s Finals debut was a massive success
Al Horford has been in the league since 2007 and has made the playoffs in 13 of his 15 seasons. But until this run, he had never made the NBA Finals. In fact, his 141 playoff games without a Finals appearance were an NBA record. That drought finally came to an end on Thursday, as he stepped onto the floor for Game 1.
He looked right at home, as he drilled his first shot of the night — a 3-pointer off the feed from Jayson Tatum. That shot foreshadowed what would come, as Horford made a career-high six 3s en route to 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. In addition to being a career-high, Horford’s six 3s were also the most by any player in NBA history in their first Finals game.
« Just grateful for this opportunity, » Horford said postgame. « It’s just going out there and playing basketball at the end of the day. That’s just what it is. Just grateful to be in this position. God has put me in this position, and it’s something that I embrace and I’m excited about . Just excited to be able to share this stage with these group of guys. We have a lot of great guys here, guys that have really bought into what we’re trying to do. It’s just fun to see all that come together. »
Like many others, Horford was especially great in the fourth quarter as the Celtics made their comeback. He went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field for 11 points and hit the 3-pointer that gave them the lead for good with 5:10 remaining. Much like Derrick White, defense is what the Celtics really need from Horford. When he’s scoring like this it makes them very tough to beat, as Game 1 showed.
4. Curry makes history, then goes cold
Steph Curry made a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game, which started a historic first quarter in which he made six 3s and scored 21 points. The six 3s were an NBA Finals record for the most ever made in a single quarter by one player, and the 21 points were the most a player has had in a Finals quarter since Michael Jordan in 1993.
While Curry still had to make the shots, the Celtics’ numerous defensive lapses were a big part of his early success. There were multiple possessions where the Celtics miscommunicated and left Curry wide open for a practice-level shot and others where their bigs were sitting too far back in drop coverage.
As the game went along, the Celtics settled in defensively and did a much better job guarding Curry. His final line looks great — 34 points, five rebounds and five assists — but he did almost nothing after the first quarter. In fact, he had more shots (16) than points (13) from the second quarter on. That’s an encouraging sign for the Celtics.
5. Tatum becomes a playmaker
Jayson Tatum started Game 1 by bricking jumpers on each of the Celtics’ first two possessions, and his shooting night didn’t get much better from there. He finished with 12 points on 3 of 17 from the field for his least efficient game of the playoffs, and second-least efficient game of the entire season.
And yet, he still had a massive impact on the game, and the Celtics were plus-16 with him on the floor. Part of that was his defense, of course. With all the other elite defenders on this team, Tatum gets overlooked at times, but his length and versatility makes it very difficult for opponents.
The main thing for Tatum on Thursday night, though, was his playmaking. The Warriors weren’t going to let Tatum beat them by playing one-on-one. Tatum responded by making the right play time and again. He didn’t get frustrated when his shot wasn’t falling, he didn’t try to force the action and get stuck in traffic and he took care of the ball. As a result, he finished with a career-high 13 assists, which were also the most in NBA history for a player in their Finals debut.
« Yeah, I think that was kind of [Udoka’s] message from day one, just to challenge me to be the best player that I can be and improve other areas of my game, » Tatum said. « We watched a lot of film throughout the course of the season of games, just areas, things I could improve on. You know, obviously play-making was one. Drawing a lot of attention. Just help the team out as much as possible. So he’s done a great job with challenging myself, just the group, in that aspect. »