Celtics’ Game 1 win shows NBA Finals will be unpredictable


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SAN FRANCISCO — All it took was one game and this year’s NBA Finals has veered away from conventional wisdom and careened headfirst into Crazy Town.

After watching Game 1 on Thursday night, any well-meaning basketball analyst who witnessed backups Derrick White and Payton Pritchard audition to become the new Splash Brothers and veteran Al Horford make an early run for Finals MVP, might be staring into the abyss and questioning the meaning of life. Or, simply wondering how the heck star Jayson Tatum could hoist so many errant jumpers as his Boston Celtics still out-Warriors-ed the Golden State Warriors in a convincing 120-108 win?

Whatever we thought we knew about this matchup — the expectations we held, the predictions we made — we were wrong.

The Finals schedule allowed us time to catch our breath after the seven-game slugfest between the Celtics and Miami Heat, and we had to fill all those days without basketball with … something. So, we tried our best at forecasting the series. But after three days of prattling on and on about youth versus experience, and dissecting everything from the head-to-head matchups to all the swollen body parts belonging to Celtics’ players, for at least one game, that talk turned into hot air.

By weathering the Heat, the young Celtics show how much they’ve grown

Moving forward, trust nothing and no one in this championship round. Even when it’s a player coming across as sincere and humble.

“I think everybody had nerves today from our side,” Pritchard said, though judging by the outcome his statement was hard to believe. “It’s our first time being here. But it’s more being excited and ready for the moment.”

So much for relying in the power of home-court advantage. Or believing that jitters could legitimately trip up a group of Finals neophytes like the Celtics. Or that the Warriors getting plenty of rest and sporting a championship pedigree would play an important role in the introductory game of the series.

One would think that Golden State, having almost a week’s worth of time in their own beds and employing a roster that brims with champions, owned the upper hand. Those factors, however, didn’t seem to help during a fourth-quarter collapse that should’ve aired throughout the Bay Area with a warning label. The poor Warriors fans watching at home could’ve used a heads up about the explicit material on their television screens — in the form of the Celtics making 9 of their 12 three-pointers and outscoring Golden State 40-16 in the fourth.

Pick any of the usual talking points:

The Celtics’ fatigue level after going seven games with the Heat. Their injuries. Their inexperience. The odds of surviving an early-game Stephen Curry flurry while a sold-out arena dripping in gold loses its mind.

Yet none of these issues raised any true concern in Game 1.

NBA teams fly charter, so they’ll never experience the thrill of being cramped inside a petri dish of an airplane with crying babies and maskless seat neighbors like the rest of the us. But going from Miami to Boston to San Francisco in a matter of days is hard on the body — any body — especially for guys like Robert Williams III and Marcus Smart, who have been playing through and recovering from injuries all during the playoffs.

The pair logged the fewest minutes of the Celtics’ starters, however both made their presence felt. Williams swatted four shots and Smart scored 18 points.

Also, although the Celtics have exactly zero players who have been to the Finals — as opposed to five Warriors — confidence oozes from their pores. As does maturity and poise.

Curry made six three-pointers in the opening frame. At home. Where the Warriors had won all nine games during these playoffs. Even more, these veteran Warriors, who summer in the Finals the way some people do in the Hamptons, have gone 21-2 in playoff Game 1s under Coach Steve Kerr. The expectation should have been for the Warriors to carry the momentum of that early three-point barrage all the way to a victory.

But after Curry got done playing pop-a-shot, Boston didn’t buckle beneath the tidal wave of threes and returned to the business of playing defense. They switched more, they turned up the aggression and Curry made only one more three for the rest of the night.

As Curry went quiet, Boston’s reserves White and Pritchard combined to hit seven of the team’s 21 made three-pointers as the Celtics came roaring back from a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter.

And how’s this for another of the night’s curveballs: Tatum did not walk into Chase Center wearing one of those casual T-shirt/shorts combos he often chose during the Eastern Conference finals. Instead for his first Finals runaway moment, Tatum chose a Dolce & Gabbana suit jacket that defined conventional description. Instead, just picture: “Crockett and Tubbs take a sewing class.”

As for the other unexpected outcome — Tatum struggling to find his shooting rhythm, opening the game with a jumper that was short coming off his hands and then following up with an air ball — the Cs thrived without their star making hero shots. Tatum helped himself by turning into a facilitator, dishing out 13 assists. With Horford (26 points) and Jaylen Brown (24) hitting the looks that he could not, Boston didn’t miss Tatum’s offense.

“Ecstatic, right?” Tatum said, answering how he feels after Game 1 despite his personal 3-for-17 stat line. “Forty points in the fourth quarter? J.B. played big. Al, Payton, D-White. Those guys made big shots, timely shots as well. And we won, right? I had a bad shooting night. I just tried to impact the game in other ways. We’re in the championship. We’re in the Finals. All I was worried about was trying to get a win, and we did. That’s all that matters at this point.”

Good luck guessing what might happen next in the series. But if we’re lucky, we should expect six more unpredictable, logic-defying nights like this one.


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