After a playoff journey that started about a month and a half ago, the NBA Finals are finally here, featuring two of the NBA’s most renowned franchises; the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics. Golden State’s dynasty is looking to add another title, as they make their sixth trip to the Finals in just eight years, led by familiar faces in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Meanwhile, the Celtics look to capture their first title since 2008, while appearing in their first NBA Finals since 2010, led by young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Much like the Eastern Conference Finals, this series will be a defensive battle, regardless of the offensive firepower both teams possess. Boston ranks first in defensive efficiency, while Golden State is right behind them, ranked second. Both teams feature either the current, or former defensive player of the year in Marcus Smart and Draymond Green, but as shown in their previous series’ the defensive success of these two teams is a complete effort by their entire rotation. In the Western Conference Finals, we saw primarily Andrew Wiggins, with a sprinkling of Draymond Green and others taking the task of defending Luka Doncic. While in the ECF Boston’s two all-defensive team selections, Robert Williams III and Marcus Smart continued to show their brilliance, as their teammates Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Derrick White, and others shined on the defensive end of the floor. As I mentioned in my Eastern Conference Finals preview, the Celtics switch defensively more than any team in the playoffs, at over fifty percent, showing the versatility of their bigs on the defensive end. One of the keys to this series will be how Golden State attacks Boston’s defense when they decide to switch, and how effective the Warriors are at scoring when mismatches are presented. Boston’s defense has had to face some of the league’s best scorers during this playoff run in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jimmy Butler, but slowing down the Warriors' offense will be a different and much steeper task. Golden State’s top four scoring options (Curry, Thompson, Poole, and Wiggins) are each averaging over fifteen points per game in the playoffs. For the Warriors, the questions defensively will be who takes the assignment of guarding Jayson Tatum, will it be Andrew Wiggins or Draymond Green, or will they choose to throw different defenders at Tatum like they did Luka Doncic in their previous series? Regardless of how they choose to defend Tatum, they’ll have to slow him down to win the series, as Tatum is averaging just under thirty points per game (29.3) in Playoff wins for the Celtics. The next big factor to watch in this series is the three-point battle between these two teams. Both teams rank in the top ten for three-point percentage in the playoffs, with Golden State ranked fourth at 37.9% and Boston ranked eighth at 36.2%. The Warriors and Celtics both take an average of around thirty-five threes per playoff game, whoever wins the three-point battle is also likely to win the series. Golden State will hope that one-half of the “splash brothers,” in Klay Thompson can catch fire in the finals after shooting just 32.7% from beyond the arc against the Mavericks, which for Thompson is lower than usual. Thompson is a 41.9% three-point shooter for his career and has shot the three-ball at just under forty percent (39.9%) in this postseason. Lastly, the final major factor for the series will be the battle between the big men for both teams. For Boston, we’ve seen veteran Al Horford drink from the fountain of youth and shine during their postseason run, and have witnessed the effectiveness of Robert Williams III when healthy, forward Grant Williams has also played a large role in their success. Boston often uses a lineup featuring both Centers Al Horford and Robert Williams III allowing for floor spacing, elite-level rim protection, and size for the battle on the boards. Golden State will have to be able to match the size of the Celtics in the series, and their bigs will have to step up. Kevon Looney has been incredible for the Warriors in their finals run, but they’ll need others to step up and play bigger than their size suggests against Boston. However, if the Warriors choose to go small and play Draymond Green at Center from time to time, the quickness and pace of the Warriors could give that lineup trouble.
As I already stated, this series will be a battle of two of the NBA’s best defensive teams, but I think the offensive firepower of one will be too much for their opponent to handle. Boston’s clear advantage in this series is their size compared to Golden State, which has one true center on their roster. However, I could see Steve Kerr and his staff deciding to compound this by going small and using Draymond Green at Center while having Curry, Thompson, Poole, and Wiggins on the floor at once as well. I believe this lineup will allow the Warriors to play at an even faster pace than normal (if that’s possible) and presents too much offensively for Boston to be able to slow down. Being able to keep their turnovers low, but the pace high will be the make it or break it battle for Golden State in this series. However, if Boston can control the speed of the game or effectively match the pace of Golden State while keeping their big men on the floor, the Warriors could be in trouble. Ultimately, I think Golden State’s finals experience and the offensive firepower they have will be too much for Boston.
Golden State wins the NBA Finals in six games and adds another championship to their historic dynasty, and Steph Curry wins the first NBA Finals MVP of his career.
*All stats were received from NBA.com and ESPN'S stats & info. department