Celtics stun Warriors in NBA Finals opener with fourth-quarter flurry

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors arrived at the NBA Finals with the league’s two best defenses — and good reasons to believe those units might need some time to get up to full speed. Boston’s core group would inevitably face some nerves during its first time playing on the championship stage, and rust lingered as a concern for Golden State, which hadn’t played in a full week.

Instead, Thursday’s Game 1 opened with a bang and it never slowed down. Both teams started hot from outside in a free-flowing, back-and-forth contest that was the aesthetic opposite of Boston’s grinding Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. If the game was an exchange of haymakers, the Celtics’ 120-108 victory at Chase Center included a devastating final blow — a 40-16 advantage in the fourth quarter that dealt the Warriors their first home loss in 10 games this postseason.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry set the pace by making an NBA Finals-record six three-pointers in the first quarter, but nine different players combined to hit 20 three-pointers in the first half. This was a good old-fashioned shootout: By night’s end, the two teams had combined to hit 40 three-pointers, with Boston shooting a blistering 21 for 41 from beyond the arc.

“You never go in conceding [outside] shots,” said Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, whose team fell to 21-3 in Game 1s since he arrived in San Francisco. “You have a scouting report on each player. It felt to me like we didn’t close out every well in the first half, and that let [the Celtics] get going.”

Celtics Coach Ime Udoka noted Wednesday that his team, which has won a pair of Game 7s in these playoffs, tended not to get “caught up in the moment.” Those words proved prophetic as the Celtics erased a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime and dug out of a 15-point third-quarter hole to regain the lead midway through the final period.

“That’s who we are: We’re grinders,” Udoka said after the win. “We’re a resilient group.”

No matter how hard Curry, who finished with a game-high 34 points and seven three-pointers, tried to put away the Celtics, they responded with answers of their own from beyond the arc.

In the key momentum-swinging stretch of the fourth, Derrick White and Al Horford combined to hit three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to put Boston in front. Horford, who helped keep Boston’s postseason alive with 30 points in a Game 4 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, was sensational in the first Finals game of his 15-year NBA career.

“[Boston] just came in and played a hell of a fourth quarter,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to give them credit. It’s as simple as that. You didn’t see swings like this a decade ago. You didn’t see teams that could shoot from every position like this.”

The veteran big man finished with a team-high 26 points and six three-pointers, helping overcome a quiet night for Jayson Tatum, who finished with 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting but added 13 assists (including four in the decisive fourth quarter). Jaylen Brown added 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists for Boston.

“This is our first time [in the Finals] for all of us,” Celtics guard Payton Pritchard said. “There’s a little bit of jitters. We want to take care of the third quarter better. But resilient, that’s been the word for this year, and I think it showed tonight.”

Boston’s poise down the stretch left Chase Center, which seemed to be anticipating another comfortable victory, in stunned silence. Golden State has made a habit of sealing wins with strong third-quarter pushes, and it came out of halftime with a 21-8 run that eventually swelled to a 15-point lead. But as Curry went to the bench to start the fourth, the Celtics scored the first nine points of the final period and never looked back.

“It was the way we were moving the ball,” Horford said. “We were just setting them up and knocking them down.”

When the dust settled, Boston’s blistering fourth quarter wrenched away home-court advantage.

For the Warriors, who have long been accustomed to overwhelming opponents with their shooting flurries, it was a rare reversal. They now must quickly regroup knowing that they squandered a top-shelf performance from Curry, couldn’t capitalize on Tatum’s struggles and lost containment completely against the battle-tested Celtics.

“We pretty much dominated the game for the first 41, 42 minutes,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We’ll be fine. It’s not a hit to the confidence at all. Not one bit.”

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