What key matchup or wrinkle are you going to be focused on this series?
Adam Spinella: Matchups are a fickle beast to discuss when the defensive strategy of both teams relies on switching. Golden State has a litany of tough covers, but the dark horse that often gets overlooked is Andrew Wiggins. This postseason, he’s turned into a fiend on the glass and the defensive end. He’s averaging 2.6 offensive rebounds per game this postseason, including 3.2 per game over his last 10.
So much gravity sucks opposing defenders to the perimeter, with Curry, Thompson and Poole all as legitimate elite 3-point shooters. Boston cannot stand around and watch those shots: Wiggins is coming and out-working everyone to make those hustle plays. It’s easy to ignore him and/or switch out onto the perimeter to take away the shooters, but the second chance points are an area of concern from the start.
Jeff Pratt: A lot of people are going to say Smart/White on Curry, and that’s a fair pick. I’m going to choose Al Horford & Rob Williams vs. Draymond Green. I don’t care if it’s cheating to pick two Celtics, Al and Rob’s ability to contain Draymond and take advantage of their size on offense will be massive in determining the outcome of this series. Green has been key to Golden State’s success in the playoffs so far. On defense, he’s their anchor and floor general. On offense, so much of the Warriors’ incredible ball movement goes through him. If Horford and Williams can make life hard on Green and force other guys to step up as playmakers, the Celtics will be in a great position.
Michael Pearce: Tatum vs. Wiggins is what will dictate this series. If Wiggins can hold his own defensively, Boston will need other players to step up. Jayson Tatum will still be a great playmaker if Wiggins can limit his creativity with the ball, but in The Finals you need your stars to go out and just get buckets sometimes. If Wiggins can bother Tatum in just a few games, the Warriors should be thrilled. More stagnant offense for Boston means more transition attacks for one of the most cohesive and sound offenses in the NBA.
Jack Simone: Stephen Curry vs. Marcus Smart is the obvious pick, and that will be amazing, but give me Smart vs. Draymond Green. If you found Kyle Lowry’s conversations with the referees irritating, get ready for Green. Smart is the fiercest competitor in the league (according to these green-tinted glasses), but if there’s one player who could be above him on that list, it’s Green. He plays with a fire that is normally unmatched, but the clash between Smart and Green will be one for the ages. Expect at least one scuffle during the series (but the ultimate respect to be shown when it’s all said and done).
Greg Cassoli: This is not a matchup, but I’m very interested to see what Golden State does if Boston plays their pick-and-rolls up to touch. Such a strategy requires the screener’s defender to dance artfully between stopping the ball and getting back to the roll man as the ballhandler’s defender recovers. Al Horford is a master in navigating that in between space, and the Warriors don’t really have roll threats that can apply pressure in the way the league’s more athletic bigs can. Kevon Looney is a bear to get around, but he’s limited attacking the basket. Draymond Green is a deadly passer if you send help. I’d imagine the Celtics might just challenge him to be a finisher on the roll, sticking tight to shooters and not committing more than two defenders to addressing pick-and-rolls when Golden State’s bigs are screening.
Trevor Hass: Derrick White and Jordan Poole are going to have some entertaining battles. People are talking a lot about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, for good reason, but they seem to forget that the Warriors are basically the Splash Triplets now. Poole is electric with the ball, and if White is the one on him at times, winning that matchup is critical. He doesn’t need to limit Poole entirely, but he can’t let him get hot. When Poole is on fire, the Warriors often are as well. On offense, White needs to continue to penetrate and look for those in-between shots. He doesn’t need to force 3’s and doesn’t need to stop shooting them altogether. Just make the right play, like he has been the majority of the time.
Mike Dynon: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson vs. Boston’s defense
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown vs. Golden State’s defense
It’s going to boil down to this, isn’t it? Four elite scorers and two of the league’s most stingy defenses. Whichever can impose their will over seven games will probably win some jewelry.
Jesse Cinquini: Robert Williams versus Kevon Looney is an underrated matchup worth keeping an eye on. Looney crushed the Mavericks — an undersized team that started Maxi Kleber at the center spot — on the offensive glass during the Western Conference Finals. Being the Celtics’ man in the middle and defensive anchor (health permitting), it’s up to Williams to ensure Looney doesn’t create as many extra scoring chances in this series. This Warriors offense is too talented and will make Boston pay if given additional possessions.
Daniel Poarch: This is perhaps a bit too broad, but I think the battle between Boston’s switch-heavy defense and Golden State’s constant motion offense is going to make for some of the most compelling basketball of the entire NBA season. Neither unit has seen opposition quite like this in the postseason to this point, with the Celtics shutting down a series of flawed and injured offenses while the Warriors generally breezed past talented but inconsistent defensive units. These are perhaps the most lethal units on their respective ends of the floor in the entire league, and it’s going to lead to an incredible schematic chess match.
Are Steph Curry and Jordan Poole ready to deal with 48 minutes of Marcus Smart and Derrick White? Can Jaylen Brown keep track of Klay Thompson and Otto Porter Jr. off the ball? Will Grant Williams and Draymond Green recreate the Spider-Man Pointing meme on the court? There are a lot of interesting angles to this matchup, and I’m excited to see how they play out.
Bobby Manning: The big men matchup schematically here is fun because the Warriors’ key to their engine is Draymond Green. Defensively, he plays the same roving role defensively as Robert Williams III, and can effectively ignore Williams if he’s limited (see: x-factors thread) or even in spots where he’s not to guard the paint. If the Celtics lean toward their Grant Williams and Al Horford units, would Green ignore the two bigs with shooting pedigree to keep Boston out of the paint? The Warriors’ tendencies say probably, as they let Dallas’ inconsistent shooters like Maxi Kleber shoot open threes away from Luka Doncic receiving extra pressure. That series prepared them well for what the Celtics will challenge their defense with. As for Boston, Green as an unwilling scorer could give Williams III some room to help, drop and protect the rim, but the Warriors’ pick-and-roll, shooting and motion offense sets will keep him on his toes needing to get to the perimeter. Can he keep up with all the action, will he be healthy enough to contribute offensively and how often will the Warriors go small? Those’ll all decide whether Williams III can win his matchup against Green. Kevon Looney will test Al Horford and the Celtics’ defensive rebounding, quietly worse than the small Warriors this postseason (17.3-18.3 put back attempts allowed per 100 possessions in favor of GS). When Golden State goes small, Horford will guard everyone from Steph Curry to Andrew Wiggins in isolation after averaging 37.3 minutes per game against Miami. Daniel Theis could play in this series if necessary, but even limited Williams III minutes feel like a better bet.
Will Bjarnar: I’m on slightly cheating, because I hinted at him in my X-factors answer and didn’t end up picking him as the Warriors’ main X-factor. But I think it will be Andrew Wiggins vs. whoever ends up with that assignment. Adam nailed it: 2.6 offensive rebounds per game this postseason, including 3.2 per game over his last 10 for Wiggins, and we saw how much second chances killed or had the potential to kill Boston in both the Milwaukee and Miami series’. I can lump Kevon Looney in here, too, considering the facts that Rob Williams won’t be playing at full strength for the remainder of the postseason and Al Horford will likely be positioned on Draymond Green when the ball hits the rim. Giving the Warriors second opportunities is all but a death sentence, especially considering how streaky Boston’s offense has tended to be of late. They’ll force tough shots on every other trip, sure. But will that first tough shot be the only one the Warriors take? That could ultimately decide a few games, if not the series.
My high school coach once said, “ when the shot goes up, I don’t care if it’s a foul or a felony: @#$% hit somebody.” I have the same message for the Celtics entering The Finals.
Keith Smith: I want to see how physical Boston can be with the Warriors. Golden State runs the best off-ball stuff in the league. The Celtics ability to bump and bang players off their routes will go a long way towards their defensive effectiveness.
For an individual matchup, give me Jayson Tatum against Andrew Wiggins. If Tatum can thoroughly dominate that matchup, Boston will raise Banner 18.
Adam Taylor: It’s been said a lot in this thread, but the elephant in the room is the Tatum vs. Wiggins match-up, and how the Celtics succeed in forcing switches to get Tatum mismatches could be a defining factor. We’ve seen teams throw the kitchen sink at Tatum throughout the post-season and Udoka has generally responded well with his schemes and play calls. But, Wiggins performed admirably when asked to guard Luka Doncic in the last series, and while Tatum is a far more willing passer, the winner of this one-on-one battle will go some way to dictating how potent the Celtics are when setting up in the half-court.
Jeff Clark: I’m focused on what Jaylen Brown can bring to this series on both sides of the ball. On the negative side, I’m very concerned with Jaylen getting lost on defense. There are times when he kind of loses focus, and if you do that against this Warriors offense, you die. On the flipside, the Warriors give up a lot of turnovers and Jaylen has the potential to be a monster in transition. Games when he can get out and run are ones where a solid 20 point effort turns into a 30 point game very quickly. If we get peak Jaylen in this series (and I think we could) I like our chances.