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2022 NBA Finals

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2022 NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors v. Boston Celtics

2022 NBA Finals
The Warriors and Celtics meet in the NBA Finals for the first time in nearly six decades. | Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2022 NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors v. Boston Celtics:

The 2022 NBA Finals are finally here! The Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics tip-off Game 1 of the highly-anticipated series Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

This will be a re-match of the 1964 NBA Finals when Bill Russell captured his seventh title in eight years — including his sixth consecutive ring — over Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors (formerly called the San Francisco Warriors) in a 4-1 series victory.

Though it was difficult to take much away from either matchup during the regular season, Golden State and Boston split the season series. The first (GSW 111-107 win) featured 77 combined minutes from Boston’s Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson, Enes Freedom and Aaron Nesmith — the former three not even being a part of the team anymore. Plus, Warriors guard Klay Thompson was still injured. The second was a 110-88 Celtics win, though this was remembered as when Marcus Smart incidentally injured Stephen Curry after diving for a loose ball in the second quarter.

For the most part, everyone should be good to go now. We’ll get to see two of the league’s best two-way squads meet for all the marbles, poker chips or whatever respective item you choose is on the line. For Boston, they are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2009-10, seeking their league-record 18th title; this marks Golden State’s sixth title appearance in eight seasons, looking to win their seventh championship and first since 2017-18.

Before we dig too much into the weeds of this potentially-thrilling heavyweight bout, let’s look at the Finals schedule.

2022 NBA Finals Schedule:

GAMEDATEMATCHUPTIMETV
Game 1Thursday, June 2Boston @ Golden State9 p.m. ETABC
Game 2Sunday, June 5Boston @ Golden State8 p.m. ETABC
Game 3Wednesday, June 8Golden State @ Boston9 p.m. ETABC
Game 4Friday, June 10Golden State @ Boston9 p.m. ETABC
Game 5*Monday, June 13Boston @ Golden State9 p.m. ETABC
Game 6*Thursday, June 16Golden State @ Boston9 p.m. ETABC
Game 7*Sunday, June 19Boston @ Golden State8 p.m. ETABC
* – if necessary

Now let’s carve into the good stuff!

What we know about the Warriors:

Starters:

  • Stephen Curry
  • Klay Thompson
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Draymond Green
  • Kevon Looney

Other Rotation Players:

  • Jordan Poole
  • Otto Porter Jr.
  • Gary Payton II

The Warriors handily out-classed the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Finals. In their first two rounds, they trounced Denver Nuggets in five before ousting the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. Stephen Curry won the first-annual Western Conference Finals MVP (Hey, he finally won a Finals MVP everyone!), averaging 23.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.0 steals in 34.8 minutes per game, shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 43.9 percent from 3-point range. Golden State also received considerable contributions from Poole, Wiggins, Looney (!!) and Thompson, as well as young guns Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga in spot minutes — most of whom they will need to show against Boston.

My Warriors NBA Finals X-Factors:

  • Klay Thompson

The Warriors excelled at getting to the rim whenever they wanted to against Dallas, but navigating Boston’s back-line will perhaps be Golden State’s biggest uphill challenge. Even the switch-heavy Boston will play drop or peel-switch with Horford and Robert Williams, who both hold their own defensively. Thus, Golden State will likely have to rely on their perimeter shooting this series, specifically in the mid-range. They were 24th in mid-range frequency in the regular season and currently rank 7th among 16 non-play-in teams this postseason, per Cleaning The Glass.

Their most frequent mid-range shooter? Believe it or not, it’s sharpshooter Klay Thompson. And that hasn’t been an uncommon feat.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard took nearly 40 percent of his shots in the mid-range — including 20 percent on long 2s (~4-14 ft.) — during the regular season, per CTG. Those figures ranked in the 91st and 94th percentile amongst all wings, respectively. His long-2 shot rate has lowered to 12 percent these playoffs while his overall mid-range frequency has dipped to 36 percent, though that’s within a smaller sample of contests.

He converted 42 percent of mid-range attempts during the regular season and 49 percent (53% long 2s) of them during the postseason. On pull-up 2s, he shot 45.9 percent during the regular season (4.7 FGA) and 50.9 percent this postseason (3.4 attempts).

Boston’s defense — aimed to pressure ball-handlers at the point-of-attack while also walling off avenues for potential paint touches, arguably the most optimal way to generate consistently good offense — naturally prompts opponents to hoist a ton of long 2s. If Golden State wants to maximize their chances of winning this series, the Splash Brothers and other Warrior scorers, specifically Thompson, will have to be willing to take-and-make the aforementioned “lost art” shot.

  • Gary Payton II

Payton II, who has been hurt since Game 2 of the West semis versus Memphis due to a fractured elbow, will return for the Finals. He’s questionable for Thursday’s Game 1, but when he’s on the floor, he’s one of the league’s top on-ball pests for his size.

One would assume Thompson and Wiggins get the Brown and Tatum assignments to start. If either gets in foul trouble or there’s in a cross-match on a particular possession, Green could take that responsibility of defending either, though he’s best utilized on GSW’s back-line. But Payton II wouldn’t be much further down that list of defending Boston’s two-best scorers — if at all.

Getting the likes of Payton II back — as well as Andre Iguodala (who’s missed the entire playoff up to this point) and Otto Porter Jr. — the Warriors have plenty of capable defenders to potentially throw at Tatum or Brown at times. Payton II is more versatile defensively than most guards his size and looks to get plenty of run against them this series, should he be (fully) healthy:

What we know about the Celtics:

Starters:

  • Marcus Smart
  • Jaylen Brown
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Al Horford
  • Robert Williams III

Other Rotation Players:

  • Grant Williams
  • Payton Pritchard
  • Derrick White

The Celtics concluded their second consecutive seven-game series Sunday. They bested the Miami Heat 100-96, winning three straight in Dade County, after outlasting the Milwaukee Bucks in the East semis. They swept the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round as well. Jayson Tatum won the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, averaging 25.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.1 steals per contest, shooting 46.2 percent — including 35.3 percent from 3-point range — and 86.0 percent from the charity stripe. And while Boston might be a little banged up, they also have a litany of key contributors up-and-down their rotation — especially defensively, where have little (if any) weak links.

My Celtics NBA Finals X-Factors:

  • Derrick White

The NBA Finals, much like other series across the NBA playoffs each year, is full of a series of chess matches. Well, at least good series are. Anywho, this year’s NBA Finals will be no different. And one player at the potential expense is Derrick White, who’s been nothing short of an impactful player for Boston this postseason.

But Golden State willingly played off the 6-foot-4 guard in his only meeting against Golden State (with Boston). In the regular season, he shot 30.6 percent from 3-point range on 4.3 attempts; in his first 15 postseason games, he was shooting 20.8 percent from distance. Though in Games 6 and 7 against Miami, he netted six of his 10 3-point attempts and tallied 30 combined points.

That might’ve been the math evidently progressing towards the mean, but that’s still not sustainable. He’s still good enough to be on the floor because of his significantly above-average defense — adequately navigating around on- and off-ball screens and mucking up actions at the point-of-attack. In fact, White’s been one of Boston’s top defenders of late — a real testament to his play, given how preposterous that defense is — and it will be a treat watching him chase Curry/Thompson around a flurry of different screens/actions this series.

But I’m interested to see how long of a leash he’ll have offensively — if he can’t make shots. Golden State, like Boston, has a great defense. And they’ll likely deploy Looney, Green, a remarkable help-side defender, or Poole/Curry, their weak-er defenders (though Steph has been quite good this postseason defensively), on White when he’s on the floor.

Expect Boston to utilize him as a screen-and-roller if Looney or the latter two are defending White. Overall, though: Will White be able to continue his hot shooting against Golden State? Only time will tell.

  • Robert Williams III

As I mentioned above, Boston is very good at swaying slashers’ path on their way to the rim, naturally forcing tougher mid-range shots. In fact, the two teams who surrendered the lowest frequency of shots at the rim in the regular season: Golden State (27.0%) and Boston (27.7%), while the former surrendered the third-highest frequency of mid-range attempts (35.9%).

Both possess great team defenses worthy of generating havoc at any moment. For Boston, at the rim, that’s spearheaded by second-team All-Defensive member Robert Williams III. If Williams, who’s battled a knee injury since injuring it in the tail-end of the regular season, can stay on the court, it presents an arduous obstacle for GSW to hurdle if they’re not connecting on their long 2s or 3s.

Defensively, the Warriors don’t have many to challenge Williams at the dunker’s spot as a vertical spacer, should Boston get into the interior (which, again, will be challenging). And when Williams is able to plant himself as a weak-side help-defender in either corner, he is on of the most dominant shot-blockers in the sport.

Though it will be harder to plant Williams when there’s good shooting stationed in the corner, Boston’s still a connected-enough defense to scramble out of any kick-out scenario. Golden State will also look to catalyze offense with DHO’s with Williams’ man (Looney, Green, etc.) screening to open up space for Curry/Thompson/Wiggins to fire off 3s — especially when Williams is in the drop.

Timelord was active around the rim in their first meeting, but that’s when he was fully healthy. He hasn’t been healthy the entire playoffs (despite still making an impact) because of a knee injury and the C’s best-chance to win this series predicates on a relatively-healthy Timelord. For as good as they are, Boston is a different defense when he’s on the floor, and for the better! His presence alone makes the Warriors’ battle for points much harder:

One question for each team:

Golden State: Can they generate enough half-court offense?

Speaking of Golden State battle for points, let’s talk about their offense!

Strength versus strength; These NBA Finals pit the league’s top playoff offense (Golden State) versus the league’s best playoff (and reg. season) defense (Boston). A stingy, tough, relentless Boston defense against a motion-heavy, free-flowing, frenetic Warriors offense. As successful as Golden State’s offense has been, they haven’t faced a defense nearly as talented as this — especially in the half-court.

This postseason, the Warriors have been the third-best offensive team in half-court; conversely, the Celtics have been the best defensive half-court squad. Should they force turnovers, the Warriors will push the pace before Boston gets set and get their transition buckets. But this will, by far, be Golden State’s toughest challenge offensively.

Either one of Curry or Thompson (as mentioned above) will need to have good shooting series’, but it can’t be just them. Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins and/or Golden State’s additional shooters will have to put the ball in the bucket. Conversely, Boston will have to be connected on all-fronts defensively because of how chaotic this Warriors offense acts (in a good, and sometimes bad, sense) when it’s humming on all cylinders.

Both teams have yet to see what they’re about to face in a seven-game series, which adds even more intrigue!

Boston: Will it have enough in the tank?

This isn’t really a schematic question, but a “if this goes six or seven games, which I expect, will this be a factor” question?

Williams and Smart are both banged up in the lower-body plus Tatum dealt with a bad shoulder against Miami and, at times, didn’t look like himself. The Celtics just capped off two physically-demanding, mentally-draining series against the reigning champion Bucks plus the never-say-die Heat. They haven’t had an extra day of rest since May 7, though the extra day of rest in between a few of these Finals games — as opposed to the every-other-day conference finals — should help.

The Warriors will get up-and-down with the best of them. Boston can, but not *as* much, making me question whether they’ll run out of juice as the series ages.

The Celtics are a very resilient bunch; they haven’t lost two-straight games — with a majority of their starters active (in both games) — since mid-January and have been the league’s best team since the New Year. So it’s also not unreasonable to believe they’ll ultimately win the series.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

Not to belabor a point I just mentioned above, but: Extra rest means something, now and later. Having home-court means something, now and later. Health matters, now and later (even though that’s more fluky than the others). The Celtics could easily win this series because, again, they’ve been the NBA’s best team for five months. They have the No. 1 defense across the board with two stars in Tatum and Brown. But the amount of rest — or the lack thereof — these last few weeks is worrisome, given their previous opponents, too.

Golden State had three extra days of rest and have just one series that’s lasted more than five games. This stuff adds up in the end, especially when two teams are as evenly-matched as Golden State and Boston. Either way, this should be one heck of a series from an X’s and O’s standpoint, a coaching standpoint and hopefully an entertainment standpoint, with how many blowouts have occurred these playoffs. But I see Golden State eventually pulling it out on their homecourt.

Let the games begin!

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