The Golden State Warriors were looking very much like the champion team that they are. They were up 12 points to start the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Historically, that usually translated to only a few things – either the Warriors blew it wide open with a barrage of 3s for a 30-point win, or they played sloppy to end the game to make the final scores seem closer than they actually were.
The Boston Celtics offered a third option, one that ripped open a new universe where the Warriors aren’t very good at basketball. At least, that’s what the Celtics made it look like for the final 12 minutes of Game 1.
It certainly looked as if the Warriors were a tightly sealed vault, but the Celtics knew exactly how to crack it open. They were just waiting for the perfect moment. Jayson Tatum was the decoy. After what he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – extinguishing the hopes and dreams of the Miami Heat, like one would when putting out a candle with two wet fingers – all eyes were on him. Instead, Tatum moved the ball when his shot betrayed him.
Jaylen Brown was the first to bust through. Never mind that he scored five quick points to start the fourth quarter. It’s the look in his eyes that was daunting, like he was merely executing a blueprint in his mind in real time. Rewatch that 3 over Jordan Poole and try to convince yourself that it wasn’t choreographed.
It went by fast. In less than three minutes, the Warriors’ lead evaporated. It was one of those things where Steph Curry’s magical play became nightmarish and almost lost in a different time zone.
It was as if his 21-point outburst in the first quarter happened in a different finals game, one where the Warriors didn’t end the quarter with a four-point lead but with 14; one where Curry set a new finals record for most 3s; one where the Warriors’ mandatory third-quarter run took the soul of the Celtics.
The Celtics had the magic in Game 1, all the magic that the Warriors used to wield on their opponents when things are clicking for them. The tables were turned and the Warriors became victims of their own crime.
A 40-16 scoring disparity in the fourth quarter? That definitely sounded like something the Warriors would do. But Boston had been scheming versus Golden State. Game 1 was a heist. The Celtics didn’t only steal homecourt advantage, they also stole the very thing that made the Warriors who they are: strength in numbers.
It can’t be just Curry, lest they turn into some version of the Luka Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks, a team that sputtered out despite (or because of) Doncic’s solo heroics.
But the Warriors also have something going for them that these Celtics and those Mavericks don’t have. The know-how, experience, and poise of tweaking after a loss, that’s where the Warriors can prove that they are, indeed, gold-blooded and haven’t lost the magic despite how that fourth quarter looked like. Coming together and absorbing a gut-wrenching loss like this Game 1 – that’s what champion teams do.