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Celtics-Warriors: Your underinformed 2022 NBA Finals preview

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It’s no secret that I’m not a particularly close follower of the NBA. I have a decent general understanding of the state of the league just by dint of being a general sports fan, but as far as the vagaries and granular details? Not so much.

However, it’s also no secret that I’ve never let my relative ignorance with regard to a sports-related subject stop me from voicing my opinion.

And so here we are, with my standard underinformed preview of the NBA Finals.

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that this year’s Underinformed NBA Finals Preview is somewhat less underinformed than usual this year. As a Boston sports fan, I have maintained slightly greater than usual awareness of the goings-on regarding the Celtics. By no means should you take this as an indicator that I know what I’m talking about – I just thought it important to be transparent.)

The 2022 NBA Finals will see the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics take on the Western Conference-winning Golden State Warriors. These are two teams with significant championship history; the Celtics have a chance to retake the all-time lead in titles with a win here, though they haven’t won one since 2008. Meanwhile, the Warriors are in the Finals for the sixth time in the last eight seasons; this is their shot at a fourth title in that stretch and seventh for the franchise overall.

Recent greatness versus an effort to reignite past glory – there’s a lot of fun to be had here. So who will win?

On the Celtics side, you have to start with Jayson Tatum. He’s got the highest per-game playoff scoring average of anyone left, putting up 27 per game while also pulling down 6.7 boards and dishing just shy of six assists. He’s filled up the box score throughout these playoffs, all while contributing solid defensive efforts. Tatum’s running mate Jaylen Brown has been almost as good, scoring just shy of 23 per game with 6.8 boards and 3.5 dimes.

But it’s the contributions of other guys on the Boston roster that have made the difference. We’ve seen solid (and occasionally exceptional) play from guys like Robert Williams, Al Horford and Marcus Smart; the odd offensive explosion combined with steadily outstanding defensive efforts. Horford, for instance, has averages of 12 points and 10 boards. Williams is blocking a couple of shots per game. Smart’s going for 15.5 a game, with 4.5 boards and just over six assists.

But again, it’s the defense that makes this team special. They’ve gotten here by holding off some of the most dynamic offensive players in the league – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler – with consistent defensive effort.

The Warriors have had their own outstanding playoff run. Steph Curry has led the way, just as he has done many times in the past. He’s averaged 26 points, five boards and six assists thus far; his shooting isn’t quite at his typical elite level, but still better than just about everyone. Klay Thompson has put up 20 a game, while Jordan Poole has averaged just over 18 a game off the bench.

Draymond Green’s scoring numbers aren’t as impressive – 8.7 points per game – but when you’re grabbing seven boards and dishing six-plus assists while defending the other team’s best scorer, you don’t have to score that much. And Andrew Wiggins has been a surprise, contributing 16 points and seven rebounds per game.

The Warriors didn’t face quite the same gauntlet of superstars to get here that Boston did, but the teams they faced – Memphis and Dallas especially – were overall tougher outs. The Warriors team defense was very effective, but while they’re plenty good, the Celtics D is on a whole different level. Still, don’t be surprised if Golden State finds ways to hinder Boston’s prime-time players.

Basically, you have to give the Warriors an edge on offense and the Celtics the nod defensively. The series will likely come down to how effectively Golden State can score against Boston and whether Boston’s supporting cast can rise to the occasion. One thing to watch out for: this Warriors team is pretty good at generating turnovers and Boston – particularly Tatum – has shown a propensity for coughing it up in these playoffs. Of course, Boston’s size advantage could come into play on the other end, reducing the number of clean looks for the Warriors attack.

The timeline could make things interesting as well. Golden State is the older team, so the spaced-out Finals could give their vets more rest. But with key Celtics like Smart and Williams nursing nagging injuries, the extra time could help get them healthier, which would be huge for Boston. One wonders if that time could also lead to overthinking and building pressure; almost the entire Warriors roster has been here before, while there are literally zero Celtics on this roster with any Finals experience. If you’re a believer in the value of that kind of familiarity, you have to lean Golden State.

Basically, it boils down to a strength-on-strength matchup. I’m counting on the old adage holding true: offense wins games, defense wins championships. I believe the series will go the distance and that every game will prove hard-fought. In many ways, it feels almost like a coin flip. And since it is so close, I can feel OK about going with my homer’s heart and picking the Celtics to win their 18th NBA title and their first in over a decade.

Prediction: Celtics in seven.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2022 06:27

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