The Celtics are about to play in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Their opponents, the Golden State Warriors, are playing in their 6th Finals in the last 8 years and their core group has won 3 titles. The Warriors boast 123 games of Finals experience among their players. The Celtics have zero games of Finals experience among their players.
That’s not to say that the Celtics are going to be afraid of the moment by any means. This young core have a bit of everything except Finals experience. The Celtics’ core has been to 3 Eastern Conference Finals and in these playoffs, had the toughest path possible to the Finals while the Warriors had a fairly easy path to the Finals through Denver, Memphis and Dallas.
The Celtics faced the Nets in the first round, who were not a typical 7th seed. They boasted a veteran roster with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant that was pegged to go to the Finals at the beginning of the season. They then went through the defending NBA Champions with Giannis Antetokounmpo and then the very physical top seeded Heat with Jimmy Butler.
The series between these two teams was tied at 1-1 this season. Golden State came into Boston on December 17 and beat the Celtics 111-107. The Warriors was without Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson while the Celtics were without Grant Williams, Al Horford and Dennis Schroder. The Celtics returned the favor when they beat the Warriors 110-88 in San Francisco on March 16. The Warriors were without Gary Payton II, Andrew Wiggins and Curry only played 13 minutes while the Celtics were at full strength.
The Celtics are 9-5 against the Warriors over the last 7 years. This is the best record of any team over that time. The Celtics are also the only team to hold the Warriors under 100 in the regular season when they held them to 88 points in March. The Celtics are only the 2nd team to have a better road record than home record in the playoffs. The other team was the 2016-17 Cavaliers.
The Warriors have won 13 consecutive Game 1’s at home. It’s the 3rd longest such streak in NBA History. They are also 9-0 at home but just 3-4 on the road in the playoffs. The Celtics won Game 1 at home over the Nets but then lost Game 1 to the Bucks at home and again lost Game 1 to the Heat on the road. The Celtics are 5-4 at home and 7-2 on the road in the playoffs.
Marcus Smart (ankle) who has been questionable going into games in the Eastern Conference Finals is now off the injury list as is Sam Hauser who has been listed as out with a shoulder injury. Robert Williams III is the only player on the Celtics’ injury list at this time. He is questionable going into Game 1 and will be a game time decision for this game and will be day to day throughout the Finals.
Otto Porter, Jr (foot), Gary Payton, Jr (foot), and Andre Iguodala (neck) all missed the Western Conference Finals for the Warriors. All are listed as questionable on the most recent injury list. All four fully participated in practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and at this time are probable to play. The final status for all 3 will be a game time decision. James Wiseman (knee) is out.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Robert Williams III (knee) questionable
Probable Warriors Starters
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Draymond Green
C: Kevon Looney
Otto Porter, Jr
Gary Payton II
James Wiseman (knee) out
Andre Iguodala (back) questionable
Gary Payton II (elbow) questionable
Otto Porter, Jr (foot) questionable
Marcus Smart vs Stephen Curry
Curry is a very tough cover for every team in the league as he can score from pretty much anywhere on the floor. He is averaging 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the playoffs. He is shooting 44.9% from the floor and 38.0% from beyond the arc. He will be trying to score against the Defensive Player of the Year in this series. He is only shooting 29% against Smart for his career. Slowing Curry down will go a long way toward getting a win in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs Klay Thompson
Thompson made it back on the court for the Warriors this season after missing 2 years. He is averaging 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He is shooting 45.7% from the field and 39.9% from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown will need to play tough defense along with providing offense for the Celtics in this game. Keeping Thompson and Curry off the 3 point line is important since they are very dangerous from out there.
Jayson Tatum vs Andrew Wiggins
Wiggins has been coming into his own this season and especially in the playoffs. He is averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need Tatum to play well on both ends of the court for them to win this game.
Derrick White vs Jordan Poole
Poole has been very big for the Warriors in these playoffs. He has been coming off the bench for them and averaging 18.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He is shooting 53.1% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc. Derrick White has been playing well off the bench for the Celtics and they will need that to continue for the Celtics to win this series.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning every single game, especially in the playoffs. This is the first Finals to feature the top 2 defensive teams from the regular season since Chicago beat Seattle in 1996. In the Playoffs, the Celtics are 2nd with a defensive rating of 105.1 while the Warriors are 6th with a defensive rating of 111.0. The Celtics must especially guard the perimeter as the Warriors are shooting 37.4% on threes as a team. The Warriors are first with an offensive rating of 116.1 while the Celtics are 8th with an offensive rating of 111.8. The Celtics must continue to make defense a priority and they can’t let up even a little if they hope to win this game.
Rebound - Rebounding is always a key to winning as you need the ball to score and a good way to get it is to rebound the ball. The Warriors are 5th with 44.8 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 7th with 42.8 rebounds per game. It takes effort to grab rebounds and the Celtics must make an extra effort to crash the boards and beat the Warriors to rebounds. If they put out extra effort on the boards, that usually carries through to the rest of their game. More rebounds gives them extra possessions and limits the possessions for the Warriors. They have to work harder on the boards than the Warriors.
Stay Focused - The Celtics must be focused on making good passes and not getting sloppy and careless with their passes. They also have to focus on taking care of the ball as they dribble and handle the ball and not turn it over. They also have to focus on taking good shots and on making them in spite of the Warriors tough defense.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They need to be aggressive in going to the hoop, in crashing the boards, in fighting for loose balls and in running the court. They also have to be more aggressive on defense. They have to be the team that wants it more. If the Celtics want to get a win in this game, they have to play harder than the Warriors. Effort and being more aggressive will likely be the difference in this game.
On the Road - The Celtics are beginning this series on the road and had to travel after finishing a tough 7 game series on Sunday. The Celtics need to shake off the distractions of travel, being away from home, and playing on the road in front of a hostile crowd, not to mention against a very good Warriors team that plays tough at home, going 9-0 so far at home in the playoffs. The Celtics have played very well on the road so far in the playoffs, going 7-2 on the road. They need to continue to focus on playing the right way and not on the distractions of playing on the road.
Injuries - Injuries could affect one or both of these teams. Robert Williams is questionable and will be day to day throughout the Finals. The Celtics clearly are not as good when Robert doesn’t play or when he is limited by knee soreness. Marcus Smart has also been playing through injuries also and if he isn’t at 100% then guarding Stephen Curry won’t be near as effective.
Rust vs Rest - The Warriors have been off for a week after finishing the Mavericks in 5 games. The Celtics on the other hand are coming off 2 seven game series, playing every other day since May 7th. They have had just 3 days off since finishing the Heat in Game 7 and had to travel to California over those 3 days. The Warriors could be rusty while the Celtics could be fatigued. The Celtics on the other hand are battle tested while the Warriors have had a fairly easy route to the Finals.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be a factor in every game. Every officiating team calls the game differently. Some call it tight and others let them play. Some are tech happy while others let more go. Some favor the home team while some call it straight. However the game is called, the Celtics must adjust to it and not allow the officiating to take away their focus on playing the game. Complaining about calls rarely changes anything other than to take away from their focus on playing the game and sometimes irritate the officials.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are 3.5-point underdogs heading into Game 1 of The NBA Finals on the road against the Warriors. Golden State is a -150 favorite to be crowned NBA champions with Boston coming in at +130.
It’s still unclear who will be available for Steve Kerr. Five hours before tip-off, Andre Iguodala (left cervical disc injury), Gary Payton II (fractured left elbow), and Otto Porter Jr. (left foot soreness) are all listed as questionable. After four days rest, only Robert Williams II is listed as questionable on Boston’s injury report, despite looking pain-free and spry in yesterday’s media availability and open practice.
Game 1’s tend to be feel out games and in a series like this of differing styles, it’ll be interesting to see whose prevails to take a 1-0 lead. Can the Warriors off-ball actions cause enough mistakes for the Celtics’ switching defense? Is Boston’s size on the wings too much for Golden State to handle? Which dynamic duo score more points: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson or Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum? Can the Celtics’ road resiliency steal a game from the undefeated Warriors at Chase Center?
All odds are accurate at the time and date of publishing.