Thompson Expects C’s to ‘Throw First Punch’ in Game 3
In May of 2018, Tristan Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics by a combined 38 points, which placed their backs nearly against the wall. But in Game 3, he and the Cavs heeded to the oft-spoken advice of head coach Ty Lue: “The first five minutes, always throw the first punch.”
Cleveland would open Game 3 with a 20-4 punch out of the gate, before sprinting away with a 116-86 win. The Cavs physically imposed their will during those opening minutes, and that turned the series around for them as they won four of the final five games to earn a trip to the NBA Finals.
Three years later, Thompson finds himself in a similar situation, only this time he’s trying to help the Celtics overcome a 2-0 deficit against the Brooklyn Nets after being outscored by a combined 33 points in Games 1 and 2 on the road.
The mindset, he says, is no different this time around: his team has to come out in those first five minutes of Game 3 Friday night, and they have to set the tone from a physical standpoint.
“We gotta come out and throw the first punch,” Thompson said following Celtics shootaround Friday afternoon. “Whether it’s a hard foul, an illegal screen or even if it’s a little shoving match, we gotta bring some life and however we do that, we gotta do that. Especially with them bumping and shoving our star player (Jayson Tatum), us other guys, we gotta make it tough on their stars. I’m not saying to go out there and intentionally hurt someone, but you gotta make them feel you.”
The Celtics did a great job of making Brooklyn feel them during the first half of Game 1, as they imposed their will out of the gate in that game to take a 30-16 lead. But they need to maintain such intensity for a full 48 minutes in order to grind out a win against this talented Nets team.
“It needs to be physical, obviously, but we need to get every loose ball, every rebound, every block-out, and make them feel uncomfortable,” said Evan Fournier. “Let them know that everything is going to be hard. And we did a better job in Game 1 than in Game 2. I thought Game 1 was really our offense that didn’t work for us, but the defense was good. We just have to put a good effort on both sides of the ball, and we’ll be alright.”
Game 2 was more of a frustrating experience for the Celtics, as they trailed from start to finish, but they did begin to show more fire during the latter part of that matchup. One example was late in the third quarter when Fournier barked back at Kevin Durant during a heated verbal exchange, during which the pair had to be separated.
“We’re all grown men and we’re gonna fight back,” Marcus Smart said pridefully of that particular exchange. “Nobody’s just gonna be able to punk us like that. Evan did the right thing, and I expect that from everybody else on the team.”
Thompson hopes to see such fire out of the team in this game as well, because if the Celtics don’t bring it Friday night, then they will really have their backs against the wall for the remainder of the series.
“For us, we just gotta bring that intensity,” said Thompson, whose Cavs also bounced back from a 2-0 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. “We gotta approach this game like it's a win-or-go-home mentality. The last thing you want to do is go down 3-0 to a very good ball club like this. They did what they had to do at home and got two wins. Tonight, it just takes one win to change the whole series, change the whole narrative of what's going on right now. So we got to go out and try to get this win tonight.”
And Thompson expects to see such intensity right out of the gate: “I think tonight, especially the first five minutes, we’ll have a voice.”