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X-factors in 2022 NBA Finals (CelticsBlog roundtable)

Which players on the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors could swing the series for either side?

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the biggest X-factors in this series?

Jesse Cinquini: For the Celtics, it’s Marcus Smart. The reigning DPOY will likely guard Stephen Curry early and often in this championship series. But the question is, which Smart will Boston be getting, the clearly-hampered Smart we saw in Game 6 or the rejuvenated one from Game 7? Remember, Smart suffered a scary-looking ankle sprain back in Game 3. However, when he’s right health-wise, there’s arguably no one in the league better equipped to make life difficult for Curry.

Conversely, as for the Warriors x-factor, I’ll go with Draymond Green. Although they play different positions, expect Green to take on the challenge of guarding one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown in late-game situations. The Jays have faced off against numerous lockdown defenders this postseason, such as Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, and Kevin Durant. That said, arguably the greatest defensive player ever to step foot on a basketball court, Green is a different beast.

Adam Spinella: The biggest X-factor, quite frankly, is Jayson Tatum. He’s dealt with inconsistency these playoffs, going from superstar performance to cold shooting night. The attention he gets comes with the territory of being a superstar in this league. The Celtics need him to be a superstar and consistent shot-maker — even against great individual defenders like Andrew Wiggins or Draymond Green — if Banner 18 is to be risen in the rafters. Without his scoring on a superhuman level, this Warriors’ defense is going to be really stingy elsewhere and clamp down on the fringes. Plus, we know Tatum will get his shots up. If they aren’t falling, the league’s most dangerous transition team will have more opportunities to play where they thrive most

Jack Simone: I’ve used Grant Williams as my X-Factor for every series in the playoffs, but I’m going to switch it up here: Derrick White. The Warriors have a number of talented guards on the roster, and that’s where the bulk of their offense comes from. As amazing as Marcus Smart is, he’s only one person. Boston’s biggest advantage over the Warriors is their ability to throw a wall of lengthy, talented defenders at them. That starts with Smart, but White is next in line. He’s going to be chasing around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole for the entire series. He’s going to have to be on his A-game.

For the Warriors, it’s Kevon Looney. Last series, the Celtics got absolutely destroyed on the offensive glass, and the Heat played relatively small lineups. Looney is only 6’9, but if the Celtics don’t bring the intensity on the glass, then he’ll hurt them. In his last six games, Looney has pulled down 30 offensive rebounds. 30. By himself. Boston has some work to do if they want to slow him down.

Jeff Pratt: It’s the DPOY. Celtics fans have been witnessing the Marcus Smart experience for years now, and it will be on display for the world to see in the Finals. Smart will be tasked with defending Steph Curry, who is a different kind of threat than Boston has seen so far in the 2022 playoffs. KD, Giannis and Jimmy Butler were all big, physical offensive weapons who did most of their damage with the ball in their hands in isolation situations. Curry, on the other hand, is a handful to deal with because of his off-ball movement. Throughout the course of just one possession, you’ll likely see him run off of at least two screens, sprinting around the perimeter to create even a sliver of space. Smart will have to be on his A-game for every single second that he’s guarding Curry, while also finding ways to produce on offense. This is going to be the biggest test of his career.

Michael Pearce: Boston’s X Factor is Derrick White. We saw White’s shooting pick up as the Heat series wore on, and if Derrick can continue to hit shots while providing his consistent defense and ball movement on offense, the Warriors will have their hands full between he and Marcus Smart.

For Golden State, Kevon Looney will be pivotal. Curry, Draymond and Wiggins have been great defensively, and if Looney can play sound defense in space on switches or on pick and pops with Al Horford, Boston could undergo some serious droughts offensively in San Francisco. Denying Looney on the boards will be crucial to limiting second-chance opportunities as well.

Greg Cassoli: Derrick White will be the Celtics’ x-factor in this series. He’s sensational navigating screens off-ball, of which their will be no shortage. Golden State will undoubtedly send aggressive help off of him on the other end, daring him to beat them from deep. If White stays hot from beyond the arc, he’ll be massively valuable to Boston in The Finals.

Andrew Wiggins will fill the role of x-factor for the Warriors. He’ll be the primary defender on Jayson Tatum and is probably Golden State’s really reliable option to take on that assignment (Draymond Green could do it, but that would mean he’s not being an absolute menace providing help, which is really his greatest value). Wiggins has evolved into an uber-role player after more than a half decade spent as a miscast as a low-intensity, score-first offensive focal point in Minnesota. He’ll have his chance to prove his transformation at the games highest level in The Finals.

Trevor Hass: The X-factors in this series are Jaylen Brown and Klay Thompson. Jayson Tatum and Steph Curry will almost certainly be stellar, and Marcus Smart and Draymond Green will almost certainly play with passion, but it really comes down to to how Brown and Thompson perform as the second star. If Brown values the ball and continues to shoot like he has been, the Warriors may be in for a major challenge. On the flip side, if Thompson is his splashy self, that will go a long way toward making Curry’s life easier.

Jeremy Stevens: This is a hotter take than I usually put out there, but I’m thinking Payton Pritchard could be an x factor here. It’s not so much a matchup-specific thought, but more about how incredible the Celtics’ ceiling is when his shot is falling. The team defense has been good no matter what, but the offense comes and goes. The lulls of the Miami series made me really feel like the Celtics need a consistent spark off the bench to avoid those miserable scoreless stretches, and I think Pritchard might be the man for the job. It’ll depend on how the Warriors scheme for him; do they dare the Celtics’ role players fire away like the Bucks did? Or do they close out on everything and let the Celtics drive-and-kick them to death?

Mike Dynon: Rob Williams – The Timelord tried to play through his knee soreness against the Heat, but in Game 7 he had to sit down. He obviously couldn’t move well enough to block shots and finish lobs off the pick-and-roll as he usually does. Perhaps the extra days off before and after Game 1 will give him the rest he needs, but if he’s out or limited, that’s a major problem.

Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins – The Warriors lead all teams in playoff scoring at 114.5 points per game. Poole and Wiggins average 34 points per game combined, but Poole scored 30 or more 10 times in the regular season and Wiggins went for 25 or more nine times. If the Celtics don’t keep them in check, Golden State will be tough to beat.

Daniel Poarch: For me, the biggest X-factor in this series is Robert Williams III. It’s been a gutsy return to the court for the fourth-year center, playing through persistent soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been able to perform up to his usual standard to this point. The Celtics have been able to make due without him being 100%, but with the Warriors on deck, they’re really going to need his presence at the rim on both ends of the floor. Extra rest time in the schedule will help, as will a bit more favorable of a matchup for him than the Bucks or the Heat.

A particular area the Celtics need Williams to address: defensive rebounding. The Celtics really struggled to contain Miami on the boards at times in the Eastern Conference Finals, giving up far too many second-chance opportunities. Continued struggles in that regard could spell doom against Steph Curry and the Golden State offense. Williams is the most prolific rebounder on this roster, and he’s going to need to step up and help keep the Warriors off the offensive glass. He grabbed just four rebounds across his final 40 minutes in the conference finals, and that’s just not going to cut it.

Bobby Manning: I love some of the responses above. Grant Williams’ shooting is always key and Derrick White’s defense showed particularly adept at handling movement he’ll face again on the Warriors. They’re key, as is Marcus Smart for obvious reasons regarding the Steph Curry matchup. I’ll second Mike on Robert Williams though, the everlasting X-factor for this group. Al Horford’s presence, Daniel Theis as a backup and Grant’s positional versatility have allowed Boston to sustain without Williams and with him playing like a shell of himself — as he did most recently in Game 7. It’s clear Williams won’t be 100% for the remainder of this run, or even close, but any inch he can approach toward that numbers and being out there in general makes all the difference for the Celtics. The Warriors don’t have much of an answer for Williams’ rim-running and his offensive rebounding could become a deterrent against Golden State going small. Those two factors counteract the biggest concerns for Boston coming in, scoring against a top-tier Warriors defense when they’ve gone stagnant for long for stretches and turned the ball over in the last two rounds, and running with Golden State’s many shooters. To prevent this series from becoming a shootout the Celtics probably can’t win, Williams III needs to be out there and effectively sealing off the rim with Horford next to him. The Celtics have outscored opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions in Williams III’s minutes, close to their +10 from the regular season, +3.9 when Horford and Williams III play together this postseason (+6.7 as a team) and -9.9 in their dominant starting unit from the regular season. That’s a reflection how much Williams is still capable of raising Boston’s ceiling and how limited he’s been for most of this run. There’s some hope that extended breaks between games in this series could give him more time to at least be available for the entirety of the series. As for the Warriors, it’s hard to pick anyone except Klay Thompson. With Steph Curry’s shooting mate burying close to 40% of his threes this postseason, Golden State has two options between Thompson and Jordan Poole (39.3% 3PT in playoffs) to keep defenders from keying completely in on Steph Curry. Thompson has had his low stretches too, finishing 42.9% from the field in the regular season, his worst mark since his sophomore 2012-13 campaign.

Will Bjarnar: Even with a few days to go before The Finals, I’ve already seen more than enough commentary that underestimates the Warriors’ defensive capabilities. No, Golden State does not boast the same two-way prowess that the Bucks or Heat do — those teams are far more balanced, whereas Golden State will undoubtedly be the best offensive team Boston has faced thus far — but the Western Conference champs aren’t slouches, either. They’ll do everything that can to take away Boston’s predominant scorers and playmakers, and while that’s a difficult undertaking, with enough effort and attention, any player can be deterred. With that in mind, give me Grant Williams as the Celtics’ principal X-factor. In the Miami series, Williams shot 39 percent from three (respectable, absolutely), but only scored 8.7 points per contest on 5.9 shot attempts in 30.4 minutes per game. He was far more effective against Milwaukee, particularly in the moments when the Bucks looked to limit dominant offensive stretches from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He’ll need to knock down his open shots, something he didn’t do nearly enough against Miami. I like the idea of him lingering in the corner when the paint collapse on a driving Brown. (But Grant, a word of advice: Stop arguing with the refs, for crying out loud.)

I’ve thought a lot about the Warriors — obviously— but particularly, who they need to show up even more than they already have once the Finals start. I love (and fear) how Andrew Wiggins has found a proper role at long last, and I think he will serve as a significant two-way threat for Golden State, no matter how long the series goes. Especially considering the fact that, at times, Draymond Green looks like he has no interest in playing offense. However,, I’ll single out Jordan Poole as the ultimate X-factor. There has been a lot of talk about how Poole is the second coming of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, or how he’ll, at the very least, reignite a new era for the Splash Bro-style in San Francisco. The Warriors’ initial dynastic regime is aging, so it’s only fair. Plus, he looked electric to start the postseason — like a bat out of hell that happened to have the shooting capabilities of a prime Jamal Crawford. But he hasn’t scored more than 30 since the first game of the Memphis series, and he’s only surpassed 20 twice since Game 2 of that series (he’s averaging 15.8 since then, FWIW). He’s also not the most trustworthy defensive asset. Marcus Smart or Derrick White may not have a field day with him in front of them, but he’s hardly Jimmy Butler. (He’s much more of a Gabe Vincent defensively. Don’t kill the messenger, just watch the film.)

The Warriors have plenty of firepower to make up for a 15-point per game Poole. but to recapture that edge that they garnered right at the start of these Playoffs, they’ll need him to show up in a big way. Especially considering the fact that they haven’t faced a defense even remotely close to as good as the one the Celtics boast.

Keith Smith: I’m going to pick Marcus Smart here. He’ll do his thing defensively. No worries about that at all. But can Smart get into the paint to set up teammates? Will he make enough shots to keep the Warriors honest? Will he get caught up in something silly with Draymond Green? Those are all legitimate questions. If the first two answers are “Yes” and the last one is “No” the Celtics will be in great shape.

For the Warriors, I’m going to pick “Bench Player X not named Jordan Poole”. Poole is great and he’ll score. But someone else out of the Golden State reserve group needs to step forward. Who will that be? No idea. But someone has to.

Adam Taylor: Jaylen Brown is the player I think could really swing this series. His explosiveness and off-ball scoring are going to be huge assets against a Warriors defense that has been a serious obstacle for teams all season. If you can limit how often Brown is tasked with creating his own offense, and avoid asking him to penetrate off the dribble, he’s going to be in a fantastic position to give you high-scoring low-turnover production while being an elite outlet for Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart - who will be the team’s two primary offensive creators.

Defensively, Brown’s size, length, and versatility should be enough to deal with non-Steph Curry scorers, while his athleticism and mobility will help lock down the perimeter within Boston’s switching scheme.

I’m also expecting a big series from Payton Pritchard on offense, but that’s another story all together.

Jeff Clark: I think the “right” answer here has to be Marcus Smart and Derrick White because of all the attention they’ll have to give Steph Curry. Still, I’m going to go in another direction and pick Al Horford. It was a long time coming for him to reach his first NBA Finals, but I have a feeling that this is where he’s going to shine. He understands the game, thinks the game, makes the right reads, and if anyone is going to solve the Warriors 3 dimensional slamball chess, it would be him. He’ll also get more days of rest between games, which could be huge for his legs.

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