SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When the Golden State Warriors look at the tape of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they’ll see both the present and the past.
They’ll see the Boston Celtics, the 2022 version.
They’ll also see a team that looks a lot like the 2015 Warriors.
Consider the parallels: The 2015 Warriors had a first-time, first-team All-NBA player in Stephen Curry, a first-year coach in Steve Kerr and a trio of young standouts — Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — serving as the franchise cornerstones.
The 2022 Celtics have a first-time, first-team All-NBA player in Jayson Tatum, a first-year coach in Ime Udoka and a trio of young standouts — Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown — serving as the franchise cornerstones.
Those Warriors won their NBA Finals debut, on the way to a championship.
These Celtics won their NBA Finals debut. The rest of the story — whether they’ll win a championship or not — will play out over the next week or two. But make no mistake: If there was any doubt about whether this Boston team could truly contend for a title, it surely evaporated with a dazzling fourth quarter that fueled a 120-108 win over the Warriors in Game 1 of the finals on Thursday night.
“It just says what we’ve been doing all year,” Smart said. “We’ve been counted out all year. Rightfully so. We’ve had moments. But we continue to fight. That’s who we are. I think over the last couple months, that’s our identity. I think it stuck with us for a reason.”
In their first finals game in 2015, the Warriors erased a 14-point deficit to win.
On Thursday night, the Celtics did that one better. They erased a 15-point deficit to win their finals debut — literally. Nobody in a Boston uniform had played a single second in a finals game before Thursday night.
“We have a lot of great guys here, guys that have really bought into what we’re trying to do,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “It’s just fun to see all that come together.”
It’s been well-chronicled how this has been a tale of two seasons for the Celtics, who were 25-25 in their first 50 games and have gone 39-12 in 51 games since, including the postseason. Boston handed Golden State its third loss in the Warriors’ last 24 Game 1s by coming up with a massive fourth quarter, outscoring them 40-13 to turn a 12-point deficit into a 15-point lead in the final seconds.
All they won is a game. Not a championship. But a confident team coming into Thursday is now going to be even more confident coming into Game 2 on Sunday.
“I think everybody had nerves today from our side,” Celtics reserve guard Payton Pritchard said. “Like I said, it’s our first time being here. But it’s more being excited and ready for the moment. Just getting up and down, I think it went away quick. But it’s definitely exciting.”
And Boston got Game 1 despite a 3-for-17 shooting night from Tatum, who more than made up for that by finishing with 13 assists — more than any other two players in the game had combined.
Horford, who had gone a record 141 playoff games without making the NBA Finals, scored 26 points. Brown and Smart combined for 42. Derrick White came off the bench and scored 21. The Celtics were 9 for 11 from 3-point range to start the fourth quarter, an absurd shooting performance.
Everybody wearing green played a role. The 2015 Warriors broke out a new slogan during their postseason run that year: “Strength in Numbers.” It has been the mantra of their dynastic run.
That saying looks to fit Boston now.
“We pride ourselves on everybody being able to contribute on both ends,” Udoka said. “That’s rewarding, especially on a night when your best guy has an off night. Others step up. … It is rewarding, and knowing we can play so much better, that’s the main thing. Didn’t have a great three quarters and kept ourselves in the game, then locked down when we needed to.”
It’s going to take more than one loss to rattle the Warriors. They’ve proven time and time again they can win on the road, even in the NBA Finals. They’ll roll the dice and bet that Horford, Smart and White won’t go a combined 15 for 23 on 3s again in this series as they did in Game 1. Green said he’ll keep shooting, unflappable after a 2-for-12 from the floor, 0-for-4 from 3-point range, 0-for-3 from the foul line opener.
He did tip his cap to the Celtics, however.
“They are who we thought they were,” Green said.
Question is if they’re who the Warriors were in the beginning of their title run, too.