BOSTON – The Golden State Warriors returned here Thursday night for the first time since beating the Celtics in Game 6 to claim the 2022 NBA championship.
For much of the 53 minutes of basketball that followed, it felt like a repeat of how that series played out: lots of ugly turnovers by the Celtics, particularly by Jayson Tatum, along with poor shooting and a stagnant offense.
But, on a night when little went right for the home team, the Celtics did something they ultimately couldn’t in last year’s Finals: find a way to win. And, thanks to a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in regulation and surviving a frantic finish to overtime, Boston managed to escape with a 121-118 victory.
“That felt like a playoff game,” said Brown, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 41 minutes in his first game after an adductor strain that kept him out for the past week.
“Their intensity, their strength where they came from, that’s a game I’m sure they wanted to win. We were down, what five to seven in the fourth quarter, four, five minutes left. To be able to have the balance to fight, that shows a lot of growth We are taking steps in the right direction.”
It didn’t seem like the Celtics could say anything about this game being a step in a positive direction for most of the night. After the first half ended with the Warriors taking a one-point lead at halftime thanks to Stephen Curry stealing the ball from Jayson Tatum and hitting a half-court jumper at the buzzer, Boston trailed by as many as 11 points in the second. half.
But a spirited push back into proceedings in the fourth quarter saw Boston cut the lead to 3 and then tie it when Brown hit a 3-pointer from the sideline following a miscommunication from Golden State. In doing so, he cleared Tatum of a particularly gruesome pair of turnovers in the final 90 seconds of regulation that, for a moment, seemed to give Golden State the win.
Yet despite his struggles (shooting below 40 percent from the field and committing 17 turnovers that resulted in 24 Warriors points), Boston pointed to the way he recovered from them as a sign of that things are different than when they didn’t last June. in the Finals.
“For us, we’ve talked about poise and physicality,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Everyone asks, what did we learn [from losing in the Finals]? What have we learned? And I think what we’ve learned is that it takes a mindset to be successful. And it takes a mentality to be a very, very good team in the NBA. And you can’t be inconsistent with that.
I think even if you play very, very well and we win, we’ll still have some of those moments. Yeah, we had some turnovers, we had some kind of plays where it’s like, ‘That shouldn’t happen.’ But that’s going to happen.
“It’s just the habits that we’re developing in terms of our mindset, our poise, our physique, our ability to execute, our ability to handle the chaos of an NBA game.”
Arguably, that could also have been called into question when, after leading by 8 points with 38 seconds left in overtime, Boston proceeded to: foul Andrew Wiggins on a 3-pointer; commit a billing; give up a wide open triple; and nearly committed a 24-second violation.
All of that gave Jordan Poole a chance to get a half-court shot to tie it at the buzzer, but unlike Curry’s late in the first half, it didn’t work and the Celtics were able to survive. While the victory did little to make up for Boston’s loss last June, it gave them revenge for a blowout loss at the hands of the Warriors earlier in the season.
“I really feel like this year we’ve taken a step as a group, being a little bit more mature in handling situations, good or bad,” said Al Horford, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. “Just to keep playing and it showed tonight, because we had some serious mistakes down the stretch, at the end of regulation and overtime, and to be able to get past that and stay the course, not get discouraged and just think about what’s next.” play, that’s what we did.
“I was encouraged to see that from our group, but I feel like we’ve been much better at it this year.”
What is not up for debate is the amount of energy and attention that was put into this game by everyone involved. The crowd was electrified from the first moment and remained aware of every moment throughout the action. Both coaches loaded their best players with many minutes; Tatum played 48 minutes and didn’t come out after the first quarter, while Brown topped 40 minutes in his first game back.
Meanwhile, Golden State played Curry, Wiggins and Jordan Poole all for at least 40 minutes with a game in Cleveland tomorrow. Steve Kerr replaced Kevon Looney in the starting lineup with Poole, a change he said will stick around in the future.
Ultimately though, Boston found a way to come out on top. And while there’s nothing they can do about what happened last summer, they believe they’re poised to create a different playoff outcome this time.
“You’re going to need games like this,” Tatum said. “There will be a handful of playoff games where you don’t necessarily shoot the ball well, maybe even away from home (under 40 percent, 73 percent from the free throw line, 17 turnovers) and still find the way to win
“I think that shows the depth of our team, that on a below-average night for us, we can still find a way to win. That’s all that matters at the end of the night. Did you win or did you lose?”