C’s combat more 3rd-quarter woes: ‘Didn’t panic’

C's combat more 3rd-quarter woes: 'Didn't panic' thumbnail

3: 47 AM ET

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    Tim BontempsESPN

BOSTON — Once again, the Celtics found themselves being pummeled by the Golden State Warriors in a third quarter.

And as Stephen Curry‘s 3-pointer fell through the basket with 3 minutes, 45 seconds to go in the third quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, capping a 10-0 Golden State run and making it 83-82 Warriors, there was a collective groan from the sold-out crowd inside TD Garden:

Here we go, again.

Only, the Celtics — for the second time in this series — found a way to respond to a Warriors punch to the jaw in the third quarter with their own haymaker in the fourth, limiting Golden State to just 11 fourth-quarter points as Boston went on to win 116-100, lifting the C’s to a 2-1 series lead.

“I felt like our team really stayed poised in those moments,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “That could have gone south very quickly earlier in the year, as you know.

“But, we didn’t panic and continued to play. “

As Horford mentioned, Boston hasn’t been able to do that all season. The Celtics have been resilient since they turned their campaign around in January. Boston improved to 7-0 in these playoffs games after a loss on Wednesday, and the Celtics have not lost back-to-back postseason games.

Since Jan. 23, the Celtics have gone 13-1 in games following a loss.

“I think that’s kind of when we turned our season around, when we turned that corner,” Boston forward Jayson Tatum said. “Earlier in the season we would have given up on leads and lost games like this, but now things are just fine. They are a great team. They have great players. They’re going make shots. They’ll go on runs. It’s all about your response.

” We didn’t keep our heads down. We called a timeout and regrouped. Then we figured it all out and made winning plays. That was something I was proud of. “

The Celtics had to do this because they failed to gain any momentum in the third quarter. Golden State has now outscored Boston by 43 points across the three third quarters so far in this series, as the Warriors have repeatedly been able to twist the Celtics into knots defensively.

That, of course, is driven by Stephen Curry, who finished with 31 points on 12-for-22 shooting in 37 minutes. He also generated a seven-point possession in the third quarter by hitting a 3 while being flagrantly fouled by Horford, allowing Curry to then hit the free throw, followed by Otto Porter Jr. knocking down another 3. A minute later, a Curry 3-put Golden State up and put Boston back on its heels. But the Celtics didn’t give up. They went on an 11-6 run over the final few minutes of the third quarter to retake the lead heading into the fourth. From there, the Celtics outscored Golden State 23-11, holding the Warriors to just one basket over the first three minutes as Boston went on a quick 9-2 run to balloon its lead back up into double digits.

“For me, it was just be poised,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “Just keep calm. We’ve been there before. They are a great team. They’re going on runs, but so is everyone else. We just need to get on our runs and bolt down. “

It helped that Boston had Robert Williams III patrolling the paint. While Tatum, Smart and Jaylen Brown all put up more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists — becoming the first trio of teammates to accomplish that feat in an NBA Finals game since Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper did it for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Celtics in 1984 — it was Williams who was a team-best plus-21 in 25 minutes, finishing with eight points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and a mountain of hustle plays. He’s a game-changer,” Horford stated of Williams. “Rob is a true game-changer. We are very fortunate to have a man like him that makes winning so much easier. It’s all about his ability to bring the right things, and being there for the right people. Rob’s ability to learn and improve is what has impressed me the most.

“He learns. We talk to him, I feel like he can ask a lot of me and he always takes in, figures out, and it’s better. His impact on the game goes beyond the box score. “

Williams has seen that impact fluctuate from game to game throughout these playoffs, as he has been dealing with issues with his left knee for more than two months. He had surgery on his meniscus in that knee at the end of March, which knocked him out for the end of the regular season and the beginning of Boston’s first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.

He then suffered a bone bruise in that same knee in Boston’s second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, causing him to miss the final three games of that series as well as Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. Williams has been questionable since then. He was cleared only in the hours before tipoff.

” “It’s been tough,” Williams said about managing his knee. “Throwing everything at him. It’s usually more sore the next day, obviously adrenaline going down. We did something different today. We got on the bike a bit earlier than usual before the game. It was a great experience. “

It was obvious that he was feeling good. Williams was constantly on the court, looking for loose balls, flying across to contest shots, and finding himself in center of the action.

” I’m always talking to Rob just because I know what he’s going though,” Smart said. Smart said that he is still hurting and wants to help his team. He’s also thinking about his future. As I said to him, “You know your body.” You know what you can handle and what you cannot. We have a chance to do something extraordinary, but that’s just one of the many things we have. There are no guarantees that we will be back. If you can go, we’ll take 20 percent of you better than none of you. He understood that and decided to get out there and wear his big boy pants and go wild. “

The Celtics spent three days talking about the importance of playing with more energy and effort during their Game 2 loss. Boston set the tone immediately with its physical play on both ends. Boston won the rebounding battle by 16, including grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, and didn’t allow Golden State to speed things up, committing just 12 turnovers — including only one in the fourth quarter. Boston is now just two wins away from a championship. After once again rebounding from a loss, as well as a blow from the Warriors during their game, the Celtics now have the task of responding like this to a win.

“Another bounce back from us,” Ime Udoka, Celtics coach, said. “My message to the group was: “We’ve done it after losses; let us respond the right way after winning now.” ‘”

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