Warriors rout Celtics in Game 2 to tie NBA Finals

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SAN FRANCISCO — The weight of a fourth-quarter collapse can linger in the losing team’s memory for days, causing anxious mistakes and feelings of dread. When a comfortable lead gets squandered in a rush, it’s not so easy to find comfort again.

That was the dilemma for the Golden State Warriors, who spent 72 hours licking their wounds after the Boston Celtics mounted a dramatic comeback in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors have long had a habit of getting a series off on the right foot and closing out wins, but they looked and sounded unsettled as they processed their unusual predicament — before finally seizing control in a dominant third quarter to respond with a 107-88 victory Sunday night.

Within seconds of Game 2 tipping off, Golden State made it clear that it planned to bring maximum urgency: Draymond Green wrestled Al Horford to the floor for a jump ball, the opening salvo in what would be a busy night for Golden State’s defensive captain. Green engaged in subsequent scuffles with Grant Williams and Jaylen Brown, drawing a technical foul for his repeated extracurricular activities. Yet a nervy haze remained over Chase Center for most of the first three quarters: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson committed sloppy turnovers and forced the occasional shot, while Golden State’s perimeter defense kept losing track of Boston’s three-point shooters.

Even as the Warriors built a double-digit lead shortly after halftime, the agonizing threat of deja vu remained. Curry didn’t mince words Saturday — saying Golden State already had arrived at its “come-to-Jesus moment” — and for good reason: No NBA team had lost the first two games of the Finals at home and rallied to win the championship.

But the mood finally lightened when Jordan Poole dribbled up the court at the end of the third quarter, weaving back and forth to evade the Celtics’ Payton Pritchard. As the clock reached zero, Poole set up a step-back three-pointer from just inside half court, an audacious attempt he launched calmly as if it were an ordinary jumper. The shot swished through as the buzzer sounded, landing like a shock to Golden State’s troubled system and drawing a bear hug from Curry. The Warriors didn’t need to sweat another blown lead when a 45-footer was splashing in.

“We talk about how we finish quarters and how that momentum can carry over,” Curry said. “That was a big shot to get the crowd into it and put a dagger on the great third quarter. We shoot half-court shots at every practice and shoot-around, and we have a little competition going. If you make one during the game, we count it. [Poole] took the lead tonight.”

As Warriors seek to even Finals with Celtics, all eyes turn to Draymond Green

Curry again handled the bulk of the scoring for the Warriors, breaking open a close game by scoring 14 of his game-high 29 points in the third quarter. The two-time MVP made five three-pointers, helping to overcome a poor shooting night from Thompson, who finished 4 for 19 from the field (and 1 for 8 from three-point range). Curry’s consistent probing and Poole’s long-range three helped Golden State outscore Boston 35-14 in the pivotal third quarter.

“It all starts with Steph,” Green said. “When [Kevin Durant] was here, our offense still started with Steph. … I thought [Curry] was incredible. Most importantly, his decision-making was great. He didn’t drive into traffic. He took what the defense gave him. He wasn’t forcing anything and let the game come to him, and we all followed that.”

Warriors Coach Steve Kerr made several tweaks to his rotation in response to Game 1, which he said was “too easy for Boston.” In came backup guard Gary Payton II to help fill the gaps for forward Andre Iguodala, who sat out with a swollen knee, along with backup forward Nemanja Bjelica, who provided a pair of first-half buckets by finding seams to the hoop.

Moving the ball in search of cutters was a common theme for the Warriors, who settled in early by finding center Kevon Looney for open looks at the rim. Poole boosted Golden State down the stretch, finishing with 17 points (on 5-for-9 three-point shooting) and joking afterward that he boasts “endless range” on his jumper.

For Boston, the blowout was a continuation of its tendency to let up after victories and a reminder that it takes more than three-point shooting to win a title. The scoring balance that defined Boston’s Game 1 victory eluded the Celtics, who leaned heavily on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while receiving only scattered contributions from their starting frontcourt. Tatum shook off a poor shooting performance in Game 1 to score a team-high 28 points by hitting an array of tough shots, but Brown proved to be a bit too eager, shooting 5 for 17, and Horford and Robert Williams III combined for just four points inside.

Boston’s offense was far too one-dimensional, unable to generate consistent scoring going to the basket and relying too much on the outside shot. The Celtics shot 9 for 34 on two-pointers in the first three quarters, finding it difficult to finish in traffic and draw whistles. Green said Golden State’s “attitude adjustment” contributed to Boston’s choppy offense, which tallied a postseason-low scoring total.

Buckner: Celtics’ Game 1 win shows how unpredictable NBA Finals will be

“[The Warriors] were better defensively,” Horford said. “We missed a lot of easy ones around the basket. I need to be better in that area, and I will be next game. [Green] is going to do what he does. We’re not worried about him. We’re going to do what we do. [Our third-quarter play] is something we have to fix.”

Celtics Coach Ime Udoka will be counting on his team to bounce back in Wednesday’s Game 3 — they are 6-0 in these playoffs after a loss — but regaining control of the series will require better ball control, offensive rhythm and defensive intensity.

“We didn’t get as much penetration into the paint,” Udoka said. “Turnovers and poor offense contributed to [Golden State’s] runs. A team that scores as well as they do, we don’t need to help them out.”

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