2022 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Celtics

NBA Finals MVP Ladder: Jaylen Brown passes Stephen Curry for No. 1

The Celtics wing claims No. 1, which leaves room for a shakeup as we round out the other four contenders. Who joins him on the list after Game 3?

Jaylen Brown sets the tone in Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Finals as the Celtics snag a 2-1 series lead on Golden State.

• Complete coverage: 2022 NBA Finals

BOSTON — Jaylen Brown etched an entry into Boston franchise lore by scorching Golden State for 17 points in the opening stanza of the Celtics’ 116-100 Game 3 victory. The mark ties Ray Allen for most points scored by a Celtics player in any Finals quarter over the last 50 years.

In the process, Brown joined the elite company of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Vince Carter and James Harden as players since 1997 to rack up at least 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in the first quarter of a playoff game.

“I think it was one of his best games of getting guys organized into spots he wanted and getting our spacing correct, and attacking from there,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “I think it was almost a perfect night as far as the reads he made with his aggression looking to score, but also one, two dribbles and finding guys all over the court.”

The play of Brown (27 points), Jayson Tatum (26) and Marcus Smart (24) pushed Boston to a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series. They became the first trio to each produce at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in an NBA Finals game since 1984, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper accomplished the feat playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Interestingly, Game 3 marked just the third Finals game in Boston history that ended with three Celtics reaching at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. John Havlicek, Bill Russell and Larry Siegfried were the last Boston trio to hit those marks during a Finals matchup back in 1968.

Udoka entered the season wanting to utilize Brown more as a playmaking ballhandler to add diversity on an offense that had become reliant on Tatum, the club’s young superstar. Brown admits that “experience is the best teacher,” even after schooling the Warriors in one of his most complete performances of this series.

Jaylen Brown finishes with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists to help stake the Celtics to a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

“This is the year where I’ve been able to play with the ball in my hands a lot more,” Brown said after Thursday’s practice at TD Garden. “Other years prior, I think my sample size was a lot smaller. I appreciate Ime for having that trust in me to be like, ‘No, we’re going to put the ball in his hands.’ Everything else has just been growth from there.”

The Boston threesome seizes the bulk of the spots in this latest installment of our 2022 Race to the NBA Finals MVP Ladder, with sharpshooting Warriors guards Curry and Klay Thompson taking the last two positions as the series continues Friday with Game 4 at TD Garden (9 ET, ABC).

And now, the Top 5 in our 2022 Race to the NBA Finals MVP Ladder after Game 3:

1. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Jaylen Brown starts off hot with 17 points in the 1st quarter of Game 3.

NBA Finals stats: 22.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.3 apg

Brown has gotten off to fast starts in each of his last two games. The swingman carried Boston with a game-high 22 points in the first half alone, shooting 8-for-13 (4-for-6 on 3-pointers) while committing just two turnovers. Brown receives plenty of love for what he does on offense, but like Tatum, the 25-year-old is a two-way menace for the Celtics’ suffocating defense.

“Play both sides of the ball,” Brown said. “[For] everybody on our team, it sets a tone. From the top to the bottom, when you step on that court, you better bring it on both ends of the ball.”

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry pours in 31 points in Game 3 loss.

NBA Finals stats: 31.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg

The Warriors are 5-0 this postseason coming off a loss, and it’ll be up to Curry to improve that record in Game 4. He’s performed brilliantly over the first three games as the team’s most consistent offensive contributor, stringing together three straight Finals games with at least five 3-pointers, which ties J.R. Smith (2017) for the longest streak within a single Finals. Curry remains the only player in league annals to have accomplished that feat on multiple occasions throughout his career. In the third quarter, Curry served as the catalyst for an exciting seven-point possession that boosted the Warriors toward an 83-82 lead with 3:45 left in the third quarter.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals stats: 22.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 8.3 apg

Jayson Tatum says Eastern Conference run prepared him for this Finals moment.

Tatum has scored 26 points or more in 28 career postseason games, which places the Celtics wing at third behind Kobe Bryant (2,155 points) and LeBron James (1,761) on the all-time list for the most postseason points before the age of 25. Golden State is making Tatum work for everything he’s gotten thus far in this series, but one major area where Tatum is excelling is creating offense for teammates (game-high nine assists) while picking optimal moments in games to assert himself. If you take away the 3-pointer, Tatum will drive to the rack. In transition, the Celtics star is pretty deadly, too.

4. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals stats: 17.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg

Klay Thompson breaks out for 25 points against the Celtics in Game 3.

Finished with 25 points in Game 3, marking the 39th occasion he’s reached that total in his postseason career. Thompson knocked down five 3-pointers in the losing effort, while Curry contributed six buckets from range. Did you know Golden State is now 6-2 all-time in the NBA Finals when Thompson and Curry connect on at least four 3-pointers apiece? Thompson’s final bucket of Game 3 pulled Golden State to within four points with 38.3 seconds left in the third quarter. “From watching the film, I think defensively we need to be better and play with a little more force,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice.

5. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

NBA Finals stats: 14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.7 apg

Smart: ‘Nasty’ Game 2 film session led to turnaround

Like Tatum and Brown, Smart has been a two-way problem for the Warriors in this series. Coming off his 14th career 20-point postseason performance, Smart has also drained three or more 3-pointers on 22 occasions in the playoffs. “We have to replicate what we did in Game 3,” Smart said. “We just controlled the game, [played] the game that we wanted to play.” Teammate Robert Williams III could just as easily occupy this spot, considering his monster defensive outing with 10 rebounds, three steals and four blocks in Game 3.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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