SAN FRANCISCO — Jaylen Brown fueled a comeback charge and scored 24 points, Al Horford hit six 3-pointers and the Boston Celtics rode the most lopsided fourth quarter in NBA Finals history to a 120-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Thursday night.
Horford finished with 26 points and the Celtics outscored the Warriors 40-16 in the final 12 minutes after trailing by 15 points late in the third quarter.
Boston made its first seven tries from long distance in the fourth and wound up 9 of 12 beyond the arc over the final 12 minutes as almost everybody got involved in the 3-point flurry. Jayson Tatum was the lone Celtics regular who struggled offensively, finishing 3 for 17.
Stephen Curry scored 34 points in his return to the NBA’s big stage for the first time in three years, but the Warriors couldn’t sustain momentum from a 38-point third quarter that put them ahead 92-80 going into the final 12 minutes.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday night back at Chase Center.
The Celtics’ comeback was the biggest in the finals after three quarters since Michael Jordan’s Bulls overcame a 15-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers in Game 6 in 1992.
Derrick White’s 3-pointer over Curry with 5:40 remaining tied the game at 103, then Horford hit from deep the next time down as the Celtics took their first lead since halftime.
The Celtics are looking to capture their record-breaking 18th title, which would move them past the Lakers, and now are just three wins away from doing it.
Brown, who starred at nearby California for one college season, made consecutive baskets that tied the game at 47 with 5:03 left before halftime and the Celtics led 56-54 at the break. Golden State then used a signature third-quarter spurt, pouring in 38 points to build a big lead.
Brown then scored five quick points early in the fourth and assisted on an alley-oop dunk to Robert Williams III as the Celtics pulled back within 92-87 with 9:35 remaining. Brown’s 3 at 8:22 made it 94-92 before Klay Thompson answered with a 3.
Andrew Wiggins scored six of Golden State’s first 14 points and wound up with 20 in his finals debut, Draymond Green grabbed 11 rebounds before fouling out with 48.3 seconds left. Thompson contributed 15 points as the Warriors began their sixth finals in eight years after making five straight trips from 2015-19 and winning three championships.
They’ll have to win this one from behind after being 21-2 in their previous Game 1s under Steve Kerr.
“It’s a different feeling. You obviously go into Game 2 with more of a sense of desperation. That’s all part of this stuff. We’ve been in this position before,” Kerr said. “Boston played a brilliant quarter. They came in and earned the win.”
Curry scored a smooth 21 points in the opening period on 7-for-8 shooting, including 6 of 8 made 3s — missing a half-court heave at the buzzer. And Boston struggled to keep up with the Warriors’ snappy ball movement and shooters at every spot on the floor.
Otto Porter Jr. returned from a two-game absence to score 12 points off the bench for the well-rested Warriors. Golden State ended its Western Conference final in Game 5 against Dallas a week earlier at home, while Boston was pushed to the limit with a Game 7 victory at Miami last Sunday.
Golden State dropped to 9-1 this postseason at home, where a sellout crowd in yellow finals T-shirts chanted “M-V-P!” for Curry at every chance.
Marcus Smart scored 18 points with four 3s for Boston. The Celtics star took criticism from Kerr for what the Golden State coach called “a dangerous play” lunging at Curry’s left foot on March 16 in a 110-88 Boston rout that sidelined the 2021 scoring champion for a month before his return in Game 1 of the first round facing Denver.
Now the hard work starts for a Warriors team that went a league-worst 15-50 during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season two years ago and lost to Memphis in the play-in game last year before eliminating the Grizzlies in the first round this season.
CURRY’S FIRST QUARTER
Curry’s six 3s in the opening 12 minutes were the most ever in any quarter of the NBA Finals. In addition, the 21 points were most since Michael Jordan’s 22 in the fourth quarter of Game 4 vs. Phoenix in 1993.
The Celtics and Warriors combined for 20 first-half 3s, an NBA Finals first-half record.
Celtics: Williams started after being listed as questionable with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee and finished with eight points while playing 24 minutes. Coach Ime Udoka expected him to be limited to about 20 minutes as has been the recent pattern. … Boston and the Warriors were even on the boards at 39. … Tatum was 2 for 9 in the first half and 3 for 17 overall for 12 points.
Warriors: F Andre Iguodala (injured disc in neck), G Gary Payton II (broken left elbow) and Porter (left foot soreness) all were back. 2015 NBA Finals MVP Iguodala checked in with 2:36 left in the first to huge cheers after he missed 12 games. … Golden State is 21-3 in postseason Game 1s dating to the 2014-15 season when the Warriors captured the franchise’s first championship in 40 years — and they had won 13 straight playoff series openers at home, third-longest streak in NBA history, before this.