by Joseph Liptak for WizardRaceAndSports.com
This year’s NBA playoffs have been filled with exciting seven-game series as well as boring four-game sweeps. The Celtics have been on both sides of that equation. They swiftly walked past the Nets by stopping two of the best scorers in the league, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They then battled it out against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat. They won both series in seven games. This up-and-coming Celtics squad tasted playoff success back in 2018 and have not seen much since, until now. In this NBA finals match-up, they now have to face off against one of the greatest modern NBA teams ever, on the biggest stage in basketball.
The Golden State Warriors, led by Stephen Curry, have seen tons of playoff success in the past seven years, including five Finals appearances and three championship trophies. This Warriors team is no doubt a dynasty. They walked through this year’s playoffs without even playing a game seven. So, will their experience and camaraderie be able to win them the Finals, or are we seeing the birth of another Celtics dynasty? The NBA finals match-up is an exciting one between two high profile teams!
One of the headlines of the Celtics’ season this year has been their defense, which is led by the Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart. Their defense was on display when they were able to hold Kevin Durant to below 40% field goal shooting when they played them in the first round. This series was won by the Celtics without one of their core defenders, Robert Williams III. Williams, who is now the Celtics’ starting big-man, averages a similar defensive rating to DPOY, Marcus Smart. With them two on the court, which was seen in the Miami series, their defensive ceiling gets raised by a wide margin. Williams III is a high-energy player who does a lot for the Celtics that may not show up on the stat sheet.
Another player for the Celtics who is a defensive anchor is Grant Williams, as he too does a lot for the team that may not be recognized through stats. Similar to him is Draymond Green for the Warriors. He has been part of the Warriors squad since their first ring in recent memory, from 2015. Green does not provide much on the offensive side of the ball, but his communication and defensive hustle is what holds the most value. He is often regarded, by players around the league, as someone who you love to play with, but not against.
The other two parts of the Warriors core trio is Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Throughout his years in the league, Curry has learned to play defense at a high level, while still being a small guard. His rotations and help defense are his best defensive skills. However, his on-ball coverage is what lacks the most, which makes him a target for isolation situations. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics’ leading scorers, will no doubt take advantage of such opportunities if given the chance. Klay Thompson, who was often regarded as a premier defender before his knee injury, has visibly lost a step on the defensive end. He is still a bigger guard which helps him tremendously, but it will be interesting to see him guard Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown for a whole series. The Warriors are not known for their defense, but in this year’s playoffs, they are averaging a higher defensive rating than the Celtics. So, can the Warriors hold onto their defensive success against Jayson Tatum, or can the Celtics maintain their defensive hype by stopping Stephen Curry?
When mentioning the change in NBA play-style, one of the first names to come up will always be Stephen Curry. Curry is the leader in NBA history with the most postseason three-pointers and it is not very close. He is paired with another player who is often regarded as an all-time three-point shooter, in Klay Thompson. This duo took the NBA by storm in 2015 and have not looked back since, combining for 961 postseason three-pointers. Curry and Thompson are two amazing scorers, but they do not need to keep the Warriors offense afloat all by themselves.
The Warriors invested in two young players, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole. Wiggins, former number one overall pick, struggled to find his role when he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now that he is in Golden State, he has the ability to reach his highest potential in the role that he plays. He does not give the Warriors crazy point averages, but he plays his role very well and this season he averaged 17 points per game. Jordan Poole, new up-and-coming star for the Warriors has reached new heights this year. He is now in his third year and is averaging 18.5 points per game, while coming off the bench and playing behind a star-studded backcourt.
The Celtics’ offense is led by none other than Jayson Tatum. Tatum came into the league as a top prospect and has lived up to the hype. This year he averaged 27 points per game alongside Jaylen Brown, who averaged 22.9 points per game. However, that is where most of their scoring comes from. Marcus Smart has been a defensive specialist for the Celtics but has been inconsistent on the offensive side through the playoffs so far. Apart from the Celtics’ main stars, their offense is questionable on whether or not they can keep up with the high-powered Warrior offense. For the Celtics to hang with the Warriors, players like Marcus Smart and Derrick White have to be able to provide some scoring outside of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The main argument behind the Warriors winning the Finals is their experience. They have made five of the previous seven Finals with their core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The Celtics do have some experience with the playoffs but not to the magnitude of the Warriors. However, the Celtics recently added a seasoned veteran to their roster in Al Horford. Horford has played in 141 postseason games, but this is his first Finals appearance. The Warriors have the experience, but they do not have the drive of a young team that has not yet won the championship. This year’s Finals are wide open and the winner will be the team who keeps their cool in high-pressure situations.