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Celtics vs Warriors: 2022 NBA Finals Preview

Boston is looking for their first title since 2008 in their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors will meet in the 2022 NBA Finals. This is Boston’s first appearance in the NBA Finals since 2010. Golden State is appearing in their sixth Finals in the last eight years. The series schedule is as follow:

· Game 1 – Thursday 6/2 at Golden State – 9:00 PM ET - ABC

· Game 2 – Sunday 6/5 at Golden State – 8:00 PM ET - ABC

· Game 3 – Wednesday 6/8 at Boston – 9:00 PM ET - ABC

· Game 4 – Friday 6/10 at Boston – 9:00 PM ET - ABC

· Game 5* – Monday 6/13 at Golden State – 9:00 PM ET - ABC *if necessary

· Game 6* – Thursday 6/16 at Boston – 9:00 PM ET - ABC *if necessary

· Game 7* – Sunday 6/19 at Golden State– 8:00 PM ET - ABC - ESPN *if necessary

During the regular season the Celtics and Warriors split the series 1-1, with each team winning on the other’s home floor:

· Golden State 111 – Boston 107

· Boston 110 – Golden State 88

Neither matchup is overly indicative of what we can expect to see in The Finals. In the first game, Boston was missing Al Horford and Grant Williams. The Warriors were without Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson hadn’t returned yet. Boston erased a big halftime deficit with a huge third quarter to get back into the game. Stephen Curry then made several big plays in the fourth quarter to keep the Celtics at bay, as Golden State hung on for the win.

The second game featured both sides and relatively full health…to start the game. Late in the first half of this game, Marcus Smart dove for a loose ball and Curry sprained his foot. But even before Curry went out, the Celtics had built a solid lead. Boston used a big fourth quarter to pull away in a rout. This was one of the Celtics signature victories in the 2022 regular season.

Health Outlook

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Neither Boston nor Golden State will start this series at 100% full strength. Rob Williams is still dealing with sporadic soreness and swelling in his surgically repaired knee. The Celtics hope that the additional days off before and during The Finals will be helpful for Williams’ ability to play and play at a high level. Marcus Smart still has some soreness in his sprained right ankle, and he’s got various other bumps and bruises, but there are “no concerns” for his availability, per Ime Udoka. The rest of the Celtics are expected to be good to go with no issues, minus Sam Hauser who has been out for weeks with a shoulder issue.

On the Warriors side, they’ve got three role players trying to come back from injury. Andre Iguodala is trying to come back from a neck injury that has limited him for almost the entire playoffs. Gary Payton II is working his way back from a broken elbow suffered against the Memphis Grizzlies. Arguably the most important player, Otto Porter Jr., is trying to get over a foot injured suffered in the Western Conference Finals. They’ve all returned to practice, but there’s been no official updates for any of the three yet.

Starting Guards

Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown vs Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

Golden State Warriors Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Let’s start here: nothing about this series is really traditional, outside of each team’s starting centers being old school in-the-paint players. Both teams run a ton of offense through their wings and bigs. Both teams play virtually interchangeable basketball 1-5.

That said, we’ll stick with somewhat traditional breakdowns, because it’s how the defensive matchups are likely to play out.

Obviously, everything in the series orbits around Stephen Curry. He’s the Warriors most important offensive player. He’s also the player Boston is going to try to target on the other end of the floor.

Marcus Smart will start possessions on Curry, but in the Celtics switching system, he probably won’t finish most of them on Curry. Golden State will run a seemingly endless maze of screens and crosscuts to get Curry open. It’s important that Smart is able to call out and trust his teammates to switch and pick up Curry when he can’t fight through that traffic.

When things are more straight up, which tends to happen more when Draymond Green is on the bench, Smart has to pick Curry up at halfcourt. Anywhere inside his team’s frontcourt, Curry will let it fly. This is a series where Smart can’t lose focus for even a single possession. He’s also got to curb his natural instinct to gamble for steals. More simply put: Curry can’t be given an inch of space at any time.

Klay Thompson is back, and he’s largely looked like the guy he’s always been on offense. Because of his outstanding size, he doesn’t need any space to get his jumper off. If you focus too much on Curry, Thompson will meander his way into open space and let it fly. He’s also excellent at cutting from the backside, while the defense is locked on Curry actions. One place where Thompson isn’t quite as strong as he was pre-injury is creating offense off the dribble. More than half of his shots are three-pointers now, and a large chunk of those are spot-ups.

It’s going to be really important for Jaylen Brown to not get caught ball-watching when he’s guarding Thompson. Brown is good to great when he’s on-ball. When he’s off-ball, he can get a little lost. Brown will be key in staying with his man directly, or executing switches where the Warriors run actions involving Curry, Thompson or Jordan Poole.

When things flip to the other end, Boston gains the advantage. Golden State will deploy Curry as their designated helper as much as possible. When they trap Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, the Warriors will want it to be Curry helping off Smart or Derrick White. If they dig down on a big inside, it’ll probably be Curry coming off Smart or White.

What can help avoid this is off-ball movement. The Celtics can’t be content to just spot-up and let threes fly all the time. Timely cuts that get them into the paint against a scrambled defense will be huge in this series. In addition, look for Smart to go right at Curry some too. He’s had great success over the years by attacking Curry in the paint on drives or even on straight post-ups.

And the Celtics will, of course, hunt Curry in pick-and-roll switches to get him isolated against Jayson Tatum or Brown. The key here will be for Boston to run their screen actions in space where help can’t come as easily to scramble Curry out of the mismatch.

As for Brown against Thompson, Brown has the advantage there. For all that Thompson looks mostly like himself on offense, he’s not the same guy defensively. Brown has to avoid the live-dribble turnovers that plagued him against the Heat, but the Warriors don’t have the same active hands guys that Miami does. Brown should be able to find success driving the ball against Thompson. One key? Brown can’t over-drive the ball into too much into help in the paint. He needs to be as good about kicking the ball out as he was for lots of the Miami series, or he has to be willing to take his pullup jumper.

Advantage: Golden State. It’s Stephen Curry that gives the Warriors this advantage. He’s that good. Curry can still win games almost all by himself sometimes. If there’s any defender in the league you want on him, it’s Marcus Smart. But good offense still almost always beats good defense. Jaylen Brown can outplay Klay Thompson, but there’s no lock that will happen. The Celtics need a hyper-focused Brown on both ends of the floor.

Starting Forwards

Jayson Tatum and Al Horford vs Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

This is where the Celtics have to press their advantage. Jayson Tatum is the best player of this group, and it’s by a pretty wide margin. The key is that he has to be that best player in each game of the series. Tatum can’t have any those 4-of-16 games with seven turnovers. The Warriors are too good for Boston to overcome that.

Andrew Wiggins is playing the best two-way basketball of his career. His offensive numbers with the Warriors this season rival anything he did in Minnesota; he just has less usage. That lessened role on offense has allowed Wiggins to take his defensive game to a new level. That said, the Celtics can’t treat him as a non-entity on offense. Wiggins is too good as a shooter, driver and cutter to allow that to happen.

Look for Jayson Tatum to start possessions on Wiggins, but also look for the Celtics to bump and bang him whenever the Warriors go into their screen actions. Getting physical with Wiggins still seems to throw him off his game some, and Boston is by far the most physical defense Golden State has seen in these playoffs.

When Draymond Green has the ball, Boston is going to treat him like an extreme version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, at least to some extent. The Celtics will keep size on Green with Al Horford, or Robert Williams or Grant Williams, but they’ll drop off him when he has the ball. If they can dare Green to shoot, that’s a defensive win. It also allows a big, long-armed defender to drop into passing lanes to mess up Golden State’s off-ball actions.

When Green draws a switch, look for the small to pressure his dribble and his passes. That’s one way to protect the bigs from getting endlessly worked via movement.

When Boston has the ball, Tatum has to put his stamp on the series. Wiggins is a good defender, but he’s not any better than what Tatum has already seen in these playoffs. He has to be prepared for a heavy dose of doubles and traps. But Tatum has shown a willingness to embrace being a playmaker. Something to watch? Boston will probably initiate actions higher up the floor. That will force the Warriors to defend more in space. And the Celtics should start actions earlier in the clock too. That allows Tatum to give it up when doubled and then get the ball back later in the possession.

Also, Tatum may need to be better about playing with force. Sometimes it takes him until late in games/series to start overpowering weaker defenders. In The Finals, Tatum has to make his presence felt.

As for Horford, he’ll be heavily involved as a screener, passer and spot-up shooter. But there’s room for Horford to do damage inside as well. The Warriors don’t play anyone his size or bigger, even if Green and Kevon Looney play bigger than their listed height. The key for the Celtics is to keep Horford involved. They can run a lot of stuff through him or involving Horford as a screener. And his shooting can help bend the floor at times.

Advantage: Boston. This is the inverse of the backcourt, and Jayson Tatum gives the Celtics the benefit here. If the Celtics win the 2022 NBA Finals, it will be because Tatum was the best player on the floor. Andrew Wiggins is the Warriors best hope to slow him down. Draymond Green does his best work against bigs these days, and Klay Thompson isn’t that sort of All-Defense guy anymore. If Tatum can win his matchup with Wiggins by a healthy amount, while Al Horford plays Green somewhat even, Boston will win the series.

Starting Center

Robert Williams vs Kevon Looney

Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

This breakdown assumes Robert Williams will be healthy enough to make an impact. In games where Williams has had any sort of extra rest, he’s been pretty effective. And there’s only one instance, between Games 3 and 4, where there’s only one day off in this series.

Normally, Boston likes to deploy Williams against the other team’s weakest offensive player. He then becomes a one-man zone and he helps on everything at the rim. That won’t really work against Kevon Looney, because outside of setting screens, Looney isn’t leaving the basket area.

Because of this, don’t be surprised if Ime Udoka flips the matchup and puts Williams on Draymond Green, where he can float when Green is behind the arc. Al Horford would then pick up Looney inside. This also has the added benefit of allowing the Celtics to switch actions easier when Looney is the screener, because Horford is the better on-ball defender of the two Celtics starting bigs.

One last thing when the Warriors have the ball: the Celtics have to keep Looney off the offensive glass. He did a great job punishing Dallas when the Mavericks bigs had to help or got pulled out on the floor.

When Boston has the ball, Looney just needs to be solid. He can’t match Williams’ vertical game, so look for him to be physical before Williams leaves the floor. He’s also going to have to be on his game after doubles and traps. He was great against the Mavs in holding down the paint when the Warriors trapped against Luka Doncic. Look for more of the same.

Williams has to be available at the basket. He’s also got to be stronger with the ball, as the Heat stripped him several times. And, finally, Williams can do damage on the offensive glass in this series. Creating second chances will be huge when Boston’s offense hits one of their droughts.

Advantage: Even. We’re calling this one even because of the questions around how much Robert Williams can play. If Williams can be even 80% of himself, this will tip towards Boston. He’s that impactful on both ends of the floor. If he’s dragging himself up and down the floor, as he was late in the Miami series, then Looney will be able to push him off the floor.

Reserves

Derrick White, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis vs Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr., Jonathan Kuminga, Andrew Iguodala, Gary Payton II

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

This is where things can get really fun in this series. To start with, outside of Jordan Poole, we have no idea who Steve Kerr will have available, or who he’ll turn to for minutes. On the Boston side, there’s opportunity for both Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis to re-emerge after Ime Udoka went away from them in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Poole is the best player of this bunch. He’s a scoring dynamo and he’s going to play 30-plus minutes per night. Boston will need to account for him during the minutes he’s in the game, and they have to treat him exactly the same as they will Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Poole is that good.

The rest of the Warriors are kind of a mixed bag. If Otto Porter Jr. is healthy, he’ll play a good amount. Kerr likes him in smaller lineups alongside Green or Looney. He’s got enough size to battle inside, while also being competitive on the perimeter.

Who else Kerr plays is just a guess. He’ll go by feel from game-to-game and even quarter-to-quarter. Kerr has a good sense within minutes if one of his reserves has it that night or not. If healthy, Gary Payton II will play because of his on-ball defense. Andre Iguodala will also get a chance because Kerr trusts him as much as he trusts any other member of his core group.

For Boston, Ime Udoka will rely on Derrick White and Grant Williams to both log close to 30 minutes a night. White’s defense against all sorts of Warriors will be huge. He’s been excellent at navigating screens, so he’s a good fit to chase Curry, Thompson and Poole around. On offense, White needs to stay on the attack. He seemed to re-find his jumper late in the Miami series too. That’s huge if it sticks around for The Finals.

Williams will be a key player no matter what. He’ll be asked to play the mini-Draymond Green role that was projected for him when he came out of Tennessee. But, more than that, Williams needs to be a mini-Al Horford. He has to shoot when open and can’t lose his confidence. Much like the Milwaukee Bucks did, the Warriors may challenge Williams to shoot it. If a few don’t go down, Williams can’t record scratch and pass them up. It throws off the whole rhythm of Boston’s offense when that happens.

Pritchard and Theis fell out of the rotation against the Heat, but they could both play in this series. Golden State doesn’t hunt mismatches like Miami does, and Pritchard is pretty good off-ball about fighting through screens and staying attached to his man. His shooting will also be huge in this series when the Warriors force Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to give the ball up.

Theis can work here unlike previous series. He’ll battle, but Theis can be overpowered by the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bam Adebayo. The Warriors don’t have bigs like that. If Rob Williams is even remotely limited, Ime Udoka will probably turn to Theis more readily than he did in the last two series.

Advantage: Boston. Jordan Poole is the best bench player in the series, but Boston has more reliable depth overall. If Derrick White can knock down jumpers at a passable clip, he’ll be as key to this series as Poole is. Grant Williams is the best reserve big. And Payton Pritchard can have a big impact in this one as well. Beyond Poole, Kerr might be doing some searching to find production off his bench.

Coaching

Ime Udoka vs Steve Kerr

2021 USAB Mens Practice Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In the past two series, we gave the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat the coaching advantage because Mike Budenholzer and Erik Spoelstra had been there, done that. Both times, Ime Udoka more than held his own and Boston won.

It’s more of the same this time. Steve Kerr has been to five NBA Finals already. Ime Udoka is about to coach his fourth playoff series. Kerr is among the best coaches in the NBA of managing his roster. His guys stay ready, because they never know when their number will be called. 14 different Warriors have played key non-blowout minutes in games already in these playoffs. Or better put: the entire available Golden State roster has logged important non-garbage time.

Kerr will also mix and match his lineups. He’ll go with two bigs sometimes or he’ll go ultra-small with no bigs at times. The Warriors will push when it’s there, but they’ll take their time more often than not. The offense features concepts more than sets. The defense executes at a high level, because Kerr puts them in place to make decisions on the fly. Kerr doesn’t over-coach, but he’s also not just rolling the ball out there either.

Udoka has proven himself in a gauntlet so far. He employed a very physical approach to defense against the Brooklyn Nets and the Nets wilted against it. Udoka’s defensive plan against the Bucks was to bang Giannis Antetokounmpo as much as possible and hope that he’d eventually wear down. Against the Miami Heat, the Celtics were great...when they didn’t throw the ball away.

Udoka has earned the trust from his team as far as lineups and minutes go. He’s cut down the rotation at times, but his guys have stayed ready when called upon. And Udoka made good adjustment against Miami’s trapping defense to put the Celtics in places to still keep the offense moving.

One last thing: You don’t win seven road playoff games in three rounds without your coach setting a tone. Ime Udoka has his guys believing.

Advantage: Golden State. Much like the last two series, it’s hard to pick against a coach who has won titles, when the other guy has won just one two three series. But this one is really close. Ime Udoka is rapidly closing the gap on the best coaches in the game. Steve Kerr is terrific, and he’s been there, done that. But so had Mike Budenholzer and Erik Spoelstra too.

Prediction

Celtics in six games.

This series is full of what makes basketball great. Both teams can play big. Both teams can play small. Both will run when they can, and both will execute some of the best stuff around in the halfcourt. It’s different styles, but styles make fights.

A major key in this series will be turnovers. Both Boston and Golden State are prone to having halves and games where they throw the ball all over the gym. Whoever can control that more often will have a major advantage in The Finals.

The confidence in this prediction comes from the Boston Celtics being battle tested in these playoffs. The Brooklyn Nets weren’t your average 7-seed. They had the star power. Boston took them down. The Milwaukee Bucks were the defending champs and could have closed the Celtics out in Game 6. They didn’t. The Miami Heat have the NBA’s best coach and a ton of veterans. When they won Game 6 in Boston, it was supposed to end for the Celtics in Miami. That didn’t happen.

The Celtics haven’t made it easy on themselves. Even in sweeping the Nets, most of the games were battles. Heck, even this season hasn’t been easy. Boston was under .500 as late as January 21. But that’s all in the past.

And that’s what matters to these Celtics. They put the past behind them better than any team in recent memory. It’s only about what’s next. And what’s next is taking down the NBA’s current reigning dynasty in the Golden State Warriors.

After finally getting over the hump in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics know the job isn’t done. We don’t hang banners in Boston for Conference Championships. And it’s been too long since we’ve hung the last one. It’s time for Banner 18.