NBA Finals: Warriors overwhelmed by Celtics’ athletic physicality in Game 3, and things will only get tougher

The game was already well in hand when it happened, but there was still injury to be added to insult. Stephen Curry, who had suffered a foot injury just plays earlier, attempted to defend Marcus Smart on a drive with just over two minutes remaining. Smart, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound amalgamation of muscle, grit and determination, delivered a compact elbow to Curry’s midsection, causing the two-time MVP to limp painfully to the bench as he checked out for the final time.

Resignation? Perhaps not. But surely acquiescence … at least for one night.

The Boston Celtics took a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals on Wednesday with a 116-100 Game 3 win, and it’s not one that the Golden State Warriors will soon forget. They’ll have plenty of time to think about it while soaking in the ice tub and getting full-body massages, trying to prevent bruising and inflammation from the punishment the Celtics relentlessly delivered throughout the evening.

“Game 2, they brought the heat to us. For us, that left a bad taste in our mouth because what we hang our hat on is effort on the defensive end and being a physical team. It definitely woke us up a little bit,” Smart said after the Game 3 win. ” We just wanted to come out, and if we were going to come out here and play, the last thing when we left that court we didn’t want to say we weren’t physical enough.”

Boston executed on its clear intention of getting to the rim early and often, outscoring the Warriors 52-26 in the paint for the game. The Celtics also displayed their force on the offensive glass, edging the Warriors 15-6, which led to a 22-11 advantage in second-chance points.

A trademark Curry heater made things close in the

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Celtics vs. Bucks: Boston faces most significant moment of Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown era after Game 5 collapse

The Boston Celtics could see the finish line. A 3-2 lead was right there if they could just keep their wits about them and stay on their feet. And then one stumble. Then another, and another, and suddenly, improbably, the Milwaukee Bucks nipped them at the tape to steal control of the East semifinal series. 

“We gave it away,” Jaylen Brown said. “That’s how we lost it.”

Now, the action shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 6 and one of the most significant moments of the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown era. 

The duo, which has been together since Tatum arrived in the 2017 draft, has already made a number of deep playoff runs together. There was the surprise trip to the Eastern Conference finals in Tatum’s rookie season in 2018, where they ultimately lost Game 7 at home to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They got back to the ECF in 2020 in the bubble, but were not fully healthy and couldn’t take care of business against the Miami Heat in a strange environment. 

Both of those defeats were frustrating, but they felt like positive stepping stones for a young team at the time. The reins hadn’t fully been handed to Tatum and Brown, and in neither season were the Celtics likely to actually win the title if they broke through to the Finals — certainly not in 2018 against the Golden State Warriors at the height of their powers, and probably not against the LeBron and Anthony Davis-led Lakers in 2020.

None of those caveats apply this time around. This is well and truly Tatum and Brown’s team, and it would be a massive disappointment if they bow out in the second round, even to the defending champions. The title race is wide open this season, and

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Celtics vs. Nets takeaways: Jayson Tatum’s Game 1 buzzer-beater, final stand show Boston’s best attributes

The Boston Celtics’ 15-point lead had disappeared, Kyrie Irving had caught fire and there were only 11 seconds to salvage their series opener on Sunday. Derrick White pushed the ball in transition and gave it up to Jaylen Brown, who drove baseline, and, when two Brooklyn Nets cut him off, spun to his left and kicked it out to Marcus Smart. Instead of trying to be the hero, Smart pump-faked, dribbled past the two Nets flying at him and dished it to a cutting Jayson Tatum.

Spin move. Layup. Game. Bedlam. 

“Honestly, I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it,” Tatum said. “So, last-second shot, just crash the glass; if it doesn’t go in, try to make a play. But when he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact. And he made a great pass. I just had to make a layup.”

The game-winner at TD Garden gave Tatum 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting, Smart his sixth assist and the Celtics a 115-114 Game 1 victory. It also gave Boston a massive sigh of relief. 

“Those are the best games,” Tatum said. “The games that are the most rewarding, the most fun, just as a competitor. We’re up 15 and we go down five and … the only thing you gotta do is just try to figure it out.” 

Brooklyn began the fourth quarter down by 11 points. It had committed 14 turnovers, and it had been beaten up on the glass. The Nets took the lead with a 15-2 run, driven primarily by Irving, who scored 18 of his game-high 39 points in the final frame. Irving did his damage on 12-for-20 shooting, with six assists, four steals and five rebounds.

Kevin Durant finished with 23 points on 9-for-24 shooting, with four rebounds,

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2022 NBA playoff picture: Mavericks clinch top-four seed; Celtics vs. Bucks for No. 2 seed on Thursday

The Brooklyn Nets rallied past the New York Knicks on Wednesday and continue to control their own destiny for the No. 7 seed. The Nets trail the Cleveland Cavaliers, the current No. 7 seed, by one game and they play each other on Friday. If Brooklyn wins, it would also secure the tiebreaker. 

Also in the East, the 2-seed Boston Celtics hit the 50-win mark and remain tied in the loss column with No. 3 Milwaukee and No. 4 Philadelphia. The Celtics play the Bucks on Thursday in a game that will go a long way in sussing out this three-team logjam. 

We’re going to be keeping close tabs on the playoff race with daily updates the rest of the way. Below is where things stand entering play on Thursday, April 7.

NOTE: Our SportsLine model, developed by predictive data engineer Stephen Oh, simulates the entire season 10,000 times and is constantly updating to reflect changing circumstances to produce the most unbiased and precise projections imaginable

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Phoenix has clinched the No. 1 overall seed. 

  • Current first-round matchup: TBD (play-in results)  

The Grizzlies have clinched the No. 2 seed. 

The Warriors remain one game up on No. 4 Dallas in the loss column with three to play. Golden State has clinched a top-four seed. 

  • Projected seed: 3
  • Current first-round matchup: Nuggets
  • Tiebreaker vs. No. 4 Mavericks: Dallas has clinched with 3-1 head-to-head advantage

4. Dallas Mavericks 

The Mavericks clinched a top-four seed with their win over Detroit on Wednesday. Dallas is one game back of No. 3 Golden State in the loss column with two to play, and

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