The ball moved, the shots fell and the floor shook in a very familiar third quarter for the Golden State Warriors.
Then came the fourth quarter and a stunning collapse of the most experienced team as the Warriors lost a rare game in a playoff series under manager Steve Kerr, falling in Game 1 of the NBA Finals 120-108 to the Celtics. from Boston on Thursday night.
The Warriors built a 12-point lead after three-quarters of a 12-point loss in a shocking turnaround that silenced a boisterous crowd that had been celebrating Golden State’s return to the Finals after a two-year absence.
Boston made its first seven 3-pointers of the quarter and ran away, prompting chants of “Go Celtics!” in the last seconds in a half-empty arena. The Warriors scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter after a 38-point explosion in the third had seemingly put them in control.
The collapse left the Warriors complaining to officials and searching for answers after their first home loss of these playoffs after opening with nine straight wins.
“It’s a different feeling. Obviously, you go to the second game with more desperation. All of that is part of these things. We have been in this position before. Boston played a brilliant fourth. They went in and got the win,” Kerr said after the match.
It was the biggest blown lead after three-quarters of an NBA Finals game in 30 years, as the seasoned Warriors fell apart down the stretch instead of a Celtics team full of Finals newcomers. The last team to lose a Finals game when leading by at least 12 points after three quarters was Portland in 1992 in a Game 6 series-ending loss to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
The Game 1 loss was just the third in 24 playoff series for the Warriors under Kerr, with the others coming in the 2019 Finals against Toronto, plus the 2016 Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City.
It also overshadowed what had been a blistering start from Stephen Curry, who made a Finals-record six 3-pointers and scored 21 points in the first quarter.
But the Celtics adjusted and Curry made just one 3-pointer and scored 13 points the rest of the way.
Derrick White’s 3-pointer over Curry with 5:40 remaining tied the game at 103, then Horford hit from deep the next time down as the Celtics took their first lead since halftime.
Boston’s comeback was the biggest in the finals after three quarters since Michael Jordan’s Bulls overcame a 15-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers in Game 6 in 1992.
However, the Celtics were the first team to trail a finals game by 10 or more points after three quarters and win by 10 or more, according to Sportradar. They are 8-2 on the road in these playoffs.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling just to be here and competing at this level against such a dynamic franchise the last couple of years,” Boston guard Payton Pritchard said. “I think we’re all just looking forward to the challenge to go through the series and try to get it done.”
Jayson Tatum was the lone Boston regular who struggled offensively, finishing 3 for 17.
Steph Curry was outstanding all night, but it wasn’t enough. He hit on a finals record six 3-pointers in the first quarter and ended the night with 34 points.
Otto Porter Jr. added 12 off the bench, but it was the lack of offense from Poole and Thompson that let the Warriors down. They were a combined 8-of-21.
Andrew Wiggins scored six of Golden State’s first 14 points and wound up with 20 in his finals debut, Green grabbed 11 rebounds before fouling out with 48.3 seconds left. Thompson contributed 15 points as the Warriors began their sixth finals in eight years after making five straight trips from 2015-to 19 and winning three championships.
They’ll have to win this one from behind after being 21-2 in their previous Game 1s under Steve Kerr.
“It’s a different feeling. You obviously go into Game 2 with more of a sense of desperation. That’s all part of this stuff. We’ve been in this position before,” Kerr said. “Boston played a brilliant quarter. They came in and earned the win.”