Thursday's NBA: Celtics have huge 4th, beat Warriors in Game 1 of final

Associated Press

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.

Black coaches now lead 50% of NBA teams

San Francisco — It’s an annual occurrence in the NBA. Teams change head coaches and the roster of candidates who should get those jobs starts getting bandied about, and especially in recent years those lists almost always included Black candidates.

Case in point: Ime Udoka, who is of Nigerian descent.

For five years, he was one of those can’t-miss candidates but never got hired. That is, until the Boston Celtics gave him the opportunity. And all Udoka did in Year 1 was reach the NBA Finals.

“I don’t understand what took so long, to be honest,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said.

Udoka’s hiring by the Eastern Conference champion Celtics, who open the NBA Finals on Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors, was part of a transformative year for the league when it comes to diversity within the coaching ranks. In the last 12 months, eight coaching jobs have been filled by Black candidates — and for the first time, half the league’s franchises, 15 of the 30, have Black head coaches.

Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka reacts on the sideline during the first half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Thursday, June 2, 2022.

“It means a lot,” said Golden State assistant Mike Brown, one of the eight recent Black hires; he’s taking over the Sacramento Kings when this series ends. “When my son, and my oldest son’s about to have his first son, when they turn on the TV and they see people that look like them leading an NBA team on the sidelines, it can be inspiring.

“For me, carrying the torch and then passing it to the next generation is something that I think about often — not just for my family, but for others out there.”

Detroit’s Dwane Casey, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Cleveland’s J.B. Bickerstaff, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue, Houston’s Stephen Silas and Atlanta’s Nate McMillan are the seven Black coaches who had their current jobs last season. They’ve been joined in the last year by Udoka, Brown, Portland’s Chauncey Billups, Dallas’ Jason Kidd, Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley, Washington’s Wes Unseld Jr., New Orleans’ Willie Green and last week, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Darvin Ham.

Mosley interviewed for nine jobs before getting hired in Orlando. Ham, like Udoka, had been a can’t-miss name for years, but never got a chance until now.

“Darvin is about as good a guy as you’re going to see, a big competitor,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “Extreme competitor. The Lakers are really lucky to have a guy like him. He’s the kind of guy that you want.”

It’s been nearly 60 years since Bill Russell broke the NBA coaching color barrier when he became the first Black man to coach a team; he accepted the role as player-coach of the Celtics starting with the 1966-67 season and won a championship in his second season.

Al Attles and Lenny Wilkens were the next two Black coaches to get opportunities; they would eventually become champions as well. There have been roughly 260 different coaches in the NBA, excluding short-term interim fill-ins, since Russell was hired, and 1 out of 3 of those coaches have been Black. But most of those Black coaches have either lasted in their first job no more than three years or not gotten a second chance at leading a team.

Players wanted that to change. Evidently, so did other coaches.

“For many years qualified young coaches of color like Ime Udoka, Jamahl Mosley, Willie Green, Wes Unseld Jr., Darvin Ham and Stephen Silas, to name just a few, were not getting consistent opportunities to interview for NBA head coaching positions,” said Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “The last two years changed everything. The league office has tirelessly made franchises more aware of the qualifications and journeys of these talented young coaches. This increased awareness has led to qualified coaches of all backgrounds having greater opportunity to interview and the numbers speak for themselves.”

Part of that awareness came from a meeting that three league officials — Commissioner Adam Silver, chief people and inclusion officer Oris Stuart and president of social responsibility and player programs Kathy Behrens — had with Carlisle, representing the NBCA, in February 2019.

Out of that meeting, the NBA Coaches Equality Initiative was born. The NBCA worked with the league in many ways to get it started, including the building of a database; in a couple of clicks, teams in need of coaches could get information, including qualifications, experience and even an on-camera interview in some cases, on every available candidate.

“You have to talk about these issues all the time," Silver said Thursday. “If you care about diversity and inclusion in your workplace ... it has to become a focus."

There are still areas where the NBA can improve in terms of diversity. Most front-office positions are not held by people of color and Michael Jordan is the lone Black principal owner of a franchise; Jordan leads the Charlotte Hornets, the only team that has a coaching vacancy right now.

It's an issue, and while there has been improvement in some areas, Silver wants more.

“There's more work to be done," Silver said.

That said, the numbers in the NBA wildly exceed the other major U.S. pro leagues.

There are three Black coaches in the NFL: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Houston’s Lovie Smith and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles. That does not include Miami’s Mike McDaniel; his father is Black, but McDaniel identifies as biracial. The person McDaniel replaced in Miami, former coach Brian Flores, is suing the Dolphins and the NFL for what he says is racial discrimination in hiring practices.

“Our league leads the charge,” Mike Brown said. “Hopefully other leagues will follow suit.”

But he also points out that he longs for a day when 50% of the coaches in a league being Black won't seem like a milestone, saying that's “the dream." And Silver echoed those sentiments.

“I’m particularly proud of numbers and roughly 50% of our head coaches are Black now, the goal is that that's not newsworthy," Silver said. “And when people are hired, the first reaction isn't the color of their skin."