August 20, 2022

BOSTON — The Celtics hit back at their bullies in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Boston’s 16-rebound advantage on the glass was evidence of a forceful response to the Golden State Warriors’ blowout victory in Game 2, as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 77 points in a victory from 116-100. The Celtics take a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4 at home Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 31 losing points before leaving with an apparent foot injury with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Golden State does not plan to update its status until Thursday. Klay Thompson added 25 points in a rebound game for Golden State. Draymond Green, whose intensity propelled the Warriors to victory on Sunday, fouled out with two points and four rebounds in 35 minutes.

“I was soft,” Green said clearly after the loss.

If ever there was any doubt that the Celtics would match the energy brought by the Warriors in Game 2, Boston answered it in the first quarter. Led by a reinvigorated Robert Williams III (10 rebounds, eight points, four blocks, three steals), the Celtics outshot the Warriors 16-3 in the first eight minutes, grabbing as many offensive rebounds as Golden State had in all. Brown attacked Green off the dribble and rose above him from the perimeter, scoring 17 of his 26 points on 6-for-9 (3-4 3P) shooting in the first quarter.

The Warriors missed eight of their first 10 3-point attempts and couldn’t do anything against Boston’s length inside. Even as Thompson warmed up, the Celtics responded, finding layups in favorable matchups against Curry, Poole and virtually anyone Golden State threw at them. Boston doubled the Warriors’ 16 points in the paint and edged them 10 on second chances in the first half.

Golden State made an inevitable 40-second run midway through the second quarter, once again taking advantage of the Celtics’ negligence with the basketball. Thompson and Curry sandwiched 3 points around an Andrew Wiggins dunk on three straight possessions, and a minute later Curry’s layup cut what was a 17-point deficit to 56-49 with more than three minutes to play before half-time.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown reacts to a fourth quarter play against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Boston scored five in a row and cut the lead to 12 at the break. It should have been more. The Celtics scored 68 points on 57% shooting from the field and 44% accuracy from deep in the first 24 minutes, but turnovers continued to plague them, with the Warriors scoring 14 points on their eight errors.

Everyone watching expected more third-quarter magic from the Warriors. He didn’t come for six minutes. One possession changed all that. Curry drained a 3-pointer and officials confirmed Al Horford entered his landing space. The flagrant-1 foul gave Golden State a free throw and the ball. Otto Porter Jr.’s 3-pointer scored seven points in a single trip to the floor, and Boston’s lead was reduced to 82-80.

Another Curry 3-pointer another minute later gave Golden State its first lead since Kevon Looney’s layup 17 seconds into the game. Curry and Thompson combined six of the Warriors’ seven 3-pointers and 15 of their 33 in the quarter, but Boston did just enough to hold onto a 93-89 lead going into the fourth.

Failing to finish on the rim frustrated Tatum through the first three quarters, but he broke through in the final frame. He targeted Curry, whose fourth foul cost him enough aggression to open the door for Boston. The Celtics bolstered their defense in return and started the quarter on a 9-2 run to extend their lead to 11.

Curry appeared to hurt his foot late in the fourth quarter when Horford dove for the ball and landed on Curry’s leg. Curry said the injury resembled the foot sprain he suffered earlier in the season, but he expects to play in Game 4.

Golden State hasn’t come close to eight points the rest of the way. Tatum scored nine of 27 points and Smart added eight of 24 before Boston coach Ime Udoka retired with two minutes left in the fourth. When the final whistle sounded, the Celtics had 52 points in the paint against the Warriors’ 26 points and 22 second-chance points against their 11, grabbing four of their 15 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.

Boston won the hustle and play, a recurring theme in this series. Who will be the bully on Friday?

Game 1: Celtics 120, Warriors 108

Game 2: Warriors 107, Celtics 88

Game 3: Celtics 116, Warriors 100 (Celtics lead 2-1)

Game 4: Warriors at Celtics, Friday, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 5: Celtics at Warriors, Monday, June 13, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 6: Warriors at Celtics, Thursday, June 16, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)*

Game 7: Celtics at Warriors, Sunday, June 19, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)*

* – if necessary

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach