In the wake of the euphoria from their dominant Game 2 win, the Golden State Warriors fell back to earth in Game 3 with a 116-100 loss to the Boston Celtics. Boston now leads the NBA Finals, 2-1, and is now two wins away from their first title in 14 years.
After scoring the first basket of the contest, Golden State immediately fell behind by 15 points in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 18 in the second period. A stunning 12-0 run in the third quarter that spanned a mere two and a half minutes allowed them to briefly reclaim the lead, 83-82, but it was all downhill for the Warriors from that point on as the Celtics pulled away.
Stephen Curry overcame early foul trouble to finish with a game-high 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting although he was limited to only two points in the fourth quarter. Golden State was trailing by only four, 93-89, heading into the final period before Boston’s suffocating defense limited them to only 11 points for the remainder of the game. That was the third-lowest scoring NBA Finals quarter in the shot clock era.
Similar to their Game 1 loss, the Warriors allowed the Celtics to build an early lead. This gave Boston enough of a cushion to weather Golden State’s trademark third quarter run and their fourth quarter counterpunch proved to be too much to handle once again.
It is clear that the Warriors will have to keep it close in the first half come Game 4, akin to what they did in their Game 2 win, if they want to even up the count in this series. While their inevitable third quarter runs are still more than effective, they are not as potent as they once were.
Once upon a time, these post-halftime scoring binges from Golden State could turn a double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead in what felt like a blink of an eye. Nowadays, as Father Time slowly eats into the prime years of their core, these runs are only enough to cover one leg of the rally–either cut a sizable lead into a more manageable one or blowout a close game.
Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins seemed aware of this and tried to keep them in the game during the first half. During the first two quarters, Thompson briefly looked like his pre-injury self as he scored 15 of his 25 points while Wiggins dropped 13 of his 18 points.
Curry then took over with a 15-point third quarter, but no one was there to carry the torch for them in the final period. To further compound the Warriors’ woes, the 34-year-old seemed to have injured his foot when he got caught in a loose ball scramble with Boston’s Al Horford late in the match. He shrugged off the injury in the postgame press conference though and said that he will be ready come Game 4.
The most glaring difference for Golden State were the sub-par performances of Draymond Green and Jordan Poole who were both major contributors in their Game 2 win.
Green, now 32 years old, looked much older than his age as he was caught flat-footed on multiple defensive possessions and was a complete non-factor on offense. He finished with only two points, four rebounds, three assists, and two turnovers despite playing 34 minutes. After all of the hoopla surrounding their decision to switch him on to Jaylen Brown in the previous game, the Celtics’ star guard responded by attacking him aggressively in the opening period for 17 of his team-high 27 points.
Meanwhile, Poole’s poor defense was consistently targeted by Boston and he was unable to get into a consistent rhythm against their physically imposing defenders. Still in just his third year in the league, Poole has looked overwhelmed for most of these NBA Finals save for his stunning stretch late in the third quarter of Game 2.
There was a bit of an overreaction to that brief burst as NBA TV placed him right behind Curry in their Finals MVP rankings, yet the harsh reality is that the Warriors need him to be their second best player if they want to win the championship with Green and Thompson clearly past their prime.
However grim the outlook may look, this series is still far from over for Golden State. Though they may no longer have the luxury of falling behind early and employing a thunderous rally to swing things in their favor, they still have two of the greatest shooters of all time on their side which should give them a chance to win on any given night.
Curry remains one of the best players in the league and Thompson can still perform at a high level for brief stretches. The most important variables will be Wiggins, Green, and Poole who will have to show up focused for them to keep up with the Celtics.
Green in particular will be one to watch as his antics seem to be motivating more than distracting Boston as this best-of-seven duel progresses. It may be best for him and the Warriors if he can instead focus more on actually playing basketball at this point rather than trying to get into his opponents’ heads.
This has been a series of immense swings through three games and Golden State will have to respond in a big way come Game 4 if they are to slow down this Celtics team that continues to grow more confident by the day.