After a grueling NBA playoffs featuring wild upsets, rising stars and crushing defeats, we have arrived at the 2022 NBA Finals! The Daily Californian Sports writers give you their insight on an ultra intriguing matchup between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors!
Both of these teams match up very well against each other but what factor will help these teams create an advantage heading into this matchup?
Kenzo Fukuda: The Warriors-Celtics matchup will be all about quality shot creation. The two teams boast elite defense — both in scheme and personnel. The Celtic’s defense is marked by athleticism and length; it can boast lineups where five guys are elite defenders. They stifled Brooklyn, limited Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee to a survivable field goal percentage and turned the Heat half court offense into dust. The Warriors, while lacking in the sheer athleticism of Boston, have a scheme-heavy defense led by elite defender Draymond Green, followed by the emergence of Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney. They threw box and ones, high-tag stunts, two-man blitzes, three-two zones and the whole kitchen sink at Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant and Luka Doncic. We know both defenses will show up so it comes down to the offenses generating quality looks. The Celtics face an unprecedented challenge in this playoff run against the Warriors’ motion offense. They’ve been shaky at times with handling the ball and the offense has stalled in critical junctures (see the final two minutes of game seven versus Miami). However, the Warriors’ motion offense can be prone to turnovers. Getting shot attempts instead of turnovers will dictate their chances in this series.
Abhi Erra: Both the Warriors (14.8 per game in the playoffs) and Celtics (14.0 per game) turn the ball over quite a bit. The Warriors constantly move the ball in their efficient motion offense, making them prone to turning the ball over, while the Celtics can often lose the ball telegraphing their passes. Both teams are also very good at forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. The Warriors love pulling up from three-point range in transition, and the biggest reason for the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the Heat was their ability to get out in transition quickly off of a turnover. Cal basketball legend and Celtics guard Jaylen Brown is especially good at this because of his overall awareness, quickness and ability to finish at the rim. So the keys for both teams are the same and seem simple enough: Limit the turnovers. The Warriors can sometimes fall into the awful habit of forcing passes that aren’t there when they have already committed a few turnovers (looking at you, Green), but their Western Conference Finals series against the Mavericks demonstrated to the world that the Warriors can still play free and reckless basketball while limiting turnovers (11.2 per game in that series). The Celtics, however, are a team that has admitted that it “likes doing it the hard way”, and that was evident in its series against the Miami Heat. It cannot afford to make those mistakes against a lethal team like the Golden State Warriors.
Casey Grae: Golden State’s biggest advantage over Boston may be their depth. Meanwhile, the Warriors have a seemingly endless supply of quality bench players. Otto Porter Jr, Jonathan Kuminga, Andre Iguodala and Juan-Toscano Anderson all should be capable of guarding Boston’s stars in a pinch. Nemanja Bjelica has had an uneven year, but was a massive contributor against Dallas. Western Conference Finals. Gary Payton II, Moses Moody and Damion Lee all offer different skill sets at the guard positions. It seems as though every one of these players has bought into the Warriors’ system, and can contribute whenever their number is called. Steve Kerr has an entire arsenal of weapons to deploy at the right moment, and can shake up his teams rotations whenever he sees fit. Ime Udoka does not have this luxury. The Celtics only have an eight-man rotation, with Daniel Theis occasionally being the ninth man if the other bigs are injured or in foul trouble. If any core player begins to slump, the Celtics have not shown a willingness to sub them out for someone deeper on the bench. Boston’s rigid rotations may be their downfall, since they had less time to rest than Golden State and demand more minutes out of their players. The Warriors’ flexibility will pay dividends as the series goes on and players begin to wear down.
Who is the X-factor in this series?
KF: I believe Looney will be the X-factor in this series. Looney was Dub Nation’s best-kept secret during its playoff runs until this year. Averaging an underrated 6.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in the playoffs this year, Looney emerged in the Memphis Grizzlies matchup to absolutely dominate the boards in Dennis Rodman-esque style. Amassing 18 rebounds in Game 5 versus Dallas, not to mention absorbing 22 rebounds versus Memphis in Game 6, Looney has morphed the Warriors to a dominating rebounding presence despite the team sorely lacking in center depth and size. He’s been extremely successful when switched on to guards. He offers size against a Boston team with two capable centers in Al Horford and Robert Williams. Looney is going to have to wall these guys off when the shot goes up and he’s gonna be called on to limit their presence at the rim. Not to mention the fact that he’s gonna have to respect Horford’s stretch five spacing as well as survive switches versus Brown and Jayson Tatum. If the Celtics can’t make Looney the “right guy” to pick on, he’s going to make their lives a living hell.
AE: Klay Thompson has had a weird postseason run. For every game that he has shown his return to peak form, he will have even more games where he forces up bad shots and almost shoots the Warriors out of the game. His inconsistency has not completely hurt the Warriors in the postseason thus far because of the emergence of Jordan Poole and flashes of Michael Jordan in Wiggins. But in a matchup against the best defensive team in the league, Thompson must find some semblance of consistency over longer stretches. In general, the easiest way to find consistency in your shooting is to keep it simple and hunt for better shots. The Celtics pride themselves on their ability to blitz an opposing player once they cross the three-point line. That will likely be their strategy against Curry, but they may blitz him with numbers behind the three-point line. This could open up things for Thompson at the three-point line, but he must get back to making those open shots for the Warriors to have a chance of winning.
CG: For years, it has felt as though the Celtics live and die by Marcus Smart. 2022 has been no different, as Smart has taken on a bigger role in their offense. When the Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving, Smart began to play the majority of his minutes as a shooting guard. This trend continued when Irving was replaced with Kemba Walker. But this season, he took on the role as primary ball-handler and was listed as the point guard for every minute he has been on the court. When opposing defenses send help at Tatum, Smart has been Boston’s main offensive option. At the end of close games when the Dubs want to force the ball out of Tatum’s hands, Smart will likely end up with the ball. And although he has taken incredible offensive strides, he has been inconsistent at capitalizing at the end of these nail biters. Game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals was a perfect microcosm of his recent performance. He went 0-5 from the field in the final three minutes, but hit two massive free throws to put the series on ice. Boston will need Smart to continue coming through in crunch-time to win close games, as it’s very possible he ends up taking the team’s biggest shots of the season in the coming weeks
What can we glean from their regular season matchup?
KF: Short answer: very little. They split the regular-season series.The first game came in December, before the Celtics turned their season around and while they were middling at 14-15. The second game, which I personally attended, saw the Warriors without Wiggins, had Green in his first game back from a dubious back injury, and saw Smart inadvertently dive into Curry’s foot. The two teams in the finals were never at full strength versus the team we have in front of us. But I’d look at Derrick White’s performance in the second matchup. A historically shaky shooter, White went an awful 0 for 8 in the March matchup, missing on all five of his open threes. The Warriors dared him to shoot on multiple occasions, possibly foreshadowing how they will treat him in this series. But honestly, I’d throw out the entire tape of their regular-season matchup and focus on how they played versus their conference rivals.
AE: It’s always tough to analyze regular-season matchups for finals opponents since nonconference opponents only play each other twice. It is especially tough for the Warriors and Celtics because they are both simply not the same teams that they were for those matchups.
CG: Nothing on the court, but I predict twitter will be even more toxic than usual because of when Smart injured Steph.
Who’s winning the 2022 NBA Finals?
KF: I refuse to make a finals pick out of fear of jinxing my team. I’m not going to make a pick — I could never forgive myself if I jinxed it. I’m not even gonna write down which team is mine. All I can say is it’s gonna be a very fun series (if you are a neutral fan).
AE: Unlike Kenzo, I am willing to deal with the ramifications — however superstitious they are — of predicting that MY Golden State Warriors will win this series in six games. The Warriors’ championship DNA is what will eventually separate them from a Celtics team that is completely unrecognizable from their last finals run in 2010.
CG: As the lone neutral party in this shootaround, I’ve got the Warriors in six. They will crush the Celtics in game one, lose game two and split the two games in Boston. After winning game five in front of their home crowd, they’ll seal the deal in TD Garden when Thompson hits the dagger 3 in the final minute of play.