2022 NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs Boston Celtics
The 2022 NBA finals are here, featuring a matchup between the franchise with the most titles over the last decade versus the franchise with the joint-most in NBA history.
The Golden State Warriors have been installed as favorites in the NBA Finals over the Boston Celtics in an intriguing series that tips-off on Thursday in San Francisco. Golden State has opened up as a 3-point favorite for Game 1. The Warriors have home court advantage during the playoffs and they’re unbeaten at Chase Center this postseason, however the Celtics have won seven times on the road during the playoffs including three against the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
The Warriors and Celtics split their season series, with each losing on home court. Boston enters into this series with a particular record over the Warriors, since Steve Kerr took over in 2015-16 Boston have always played them well and are the only team with a winning record (9-7) against the Golden State dynasty.
The three-time champions are facing off against the youthful challengers, two generations collide. The Warriors after two seasons in the wilderness have dialed it back with Steph, Klay and Draymond proving that winning the West still goes through Golden State, whereas Boston embarked on a Eastern conference revenge tour eliminating the Bucks, Heat and Nets: three teams that knocked out the Celtics in 2019, 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Key matchups and discussion points
Andrew Wiggins, Warriors x-factor
Wiggins averaged 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists this postseason, settling into his role as Golden State’s fourth-leading scorer and most important wing defender. His value was on display in the Western conference finals against the Mavs where he chased Luka Doncic around with full-court pressure and still found a way to score consistently. Most impressive this postseason has been his offensive rebounding, indeed the Warriors have statistically been a better rebounding team than the Celtics during the postseason. Golden State’s previous matchups play into this a little; how easily Wiggins can continue to rebound at a higher level whilst once again defending the opposition’s best player, Jaysom Tatum, will determine how successful the Warriors will be.
Jaylen Brown, Celtics x-factor
One half of Boston’s dynamic duo, Brown has been the relief-valve for the Celtics should teams clamp down hard on star wing Jaysom Tatum. Against the switch-heavy defenses of the modern NBA he has continued to expose this tactic. Acting as the suckerpunch in the Boston offense, he is a fantastic secondary scorer, thriving in transition, off-the-ball and will be a major handful for Klay Thompson to guard. There will be no hiding while guarding Brown and Klay will be facing a significant test since his full recovery from a two-year long injury. Brown’s difficulty with turnovers loomed large over the previous series, 3.3 per game during the conference finals including seven in Game 3 will need to be cut out or minimized if Boston are to make it as champions.
Smart & Tatum pick-and-roll: targeting Curry?
While the Celtics’ most frequent pick-and-roll combo this postseason has been Al Horford screening for Jaysom Tatum, that set would switch the Warriors defensive leader Draymond Green onto Tatum. Not so ideal. Watch out for Smart and Tatum screening each other against the Warriors especially when Curry is being used to guard Marcus Smart. Steph has already been targeted on defense this postseason and I’d expect that to continue. You can definitely expect Jordan Poole to be targeted when he is on the floor. If Boston switches on the defensively inferior Curry and Poole with success rather than getting mired in a scrap with Draymond, Wiggins and Looney the Celtics should be good value for their historic 18th NBA championship.
Curry vs Tatum, superstar matchup
Stephen Curry vs. Jaysom Tatum is a compelling matchup. Steph, 34, is basketball royalty at this point: one of the greatest shooters in history, three-time NBA champion and two-time NBA MVP. The only individual accolade missing is an NBA Finals MVP, should the Warriors take down the young Celtics he is currently the betting favorite at +100. Curry hasn’t played to his usual lofty standards this postseason, there has been no game-long domination, but he hasn’t needed to dominate. The Warriors opponents have been comfortably handled out West, and when their rivals have threatened to flip the momentum he has taken over in short bursts. He has adapted to the situation.
His opposite number is Jaysom Tatum, 24, the two-way sensation that has finally elevated his game to bring out the best of his teammates as well as showcasing the offensive skills he possesses. The Celtics wing has been special this postseason, matching up with some of the finest players in the NBA such as Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jimmy Butler. Tatum has suffered from inconsistency in the postseason, being held to shooting below 40% on five occasions and multiple sloppy games with six or seven turnovers. Andrew Wiggins, GSW’s most rangy and athletic defender, will take on the Tatum assignment. How much he can slow down the Celtics best player could prove decisive.
Udoka transition 3’s and turnovers
A note on what Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka has achieved during his first year as a head coach in the NBA. He is the first rookie coach in history to win multiple Game 7s and he made the NBA Finals after posting a 51-31 regular season record. Shipping out Dennis Schroeder midseason, unleashing the leadership potential of Smart and Horford and trusting Robert Williams to anchor the paint have all contributed to Boston’s dramatic turnaround. Getting the players to buy-in on Udoka’s switch-heavy defensive identity has been critical.
The Celtics’ reached the Finals on the foundation of their team defense (the Celtics led the NBA in defensive rating during the 2021-22 regular season), when its collective length, size and lack of weak-links allowed them to adapt to whatever their opponents offered. The Warriors will be a different proposition; no dominant star as per the Celtics previous conference opponents, their famous ball movement and lack of selfishness will test the Celtics as they have stress-tested all their previous opponents.
The Celtics defense has one glaring weakness: turnovers. The team’s penchant for turnovers gifts opponents easy points before the Celtics defense can be set. The Celtics are allowing an extra 3.6 points per 100 possessions in transition, the worst mark for any postseason team. Miami Heat who struggled for offense all series long feasted on fast break points when they were offered the chance by the Celtics. And the Warriors offense is significantly better than Miami’s.
Curiously, Golden State hasn’t been an effective transition offense in 2021-22, ranking in the bottom half in the regular season and postseason. Memories of past-Warriors playoff games linger however, Steph and Klay are nothing if not adaptable NBA superstars. The key quarter to watch out for? The 4th. Over their 16 playoff games Golden State has outscored their opponents by +94 in the fourth and are 8-0 when leading after the third quarter. They have the marksmen in Steph, Klay and Jordan Poole to bury any team looking to make a run.