Game 1 of the Celtics-Warriors NBA Finals begins tonight at 9 PM ET.
The NBA Finals are upon us. The Celtics extinguished the Heat in an ugly 7 games of sucker punch quarters and sloppy play. In the West, the Warriors were able to ride some hot hands and take care of Luka and the Mavs in 5 games. I think we're in for an evenly matched series; more even than several of the previous Finals we've witnessed. Two strong defensive teams with offensive firepower will make for some fun games. Which team is winnings this? The Dubs, who seemed to clean up some issues they had against Memphis, or the C's, who can look unstoppable for three quarters and then completely disastrous the next quarter? Let me put a few thoughts down.
You can't watch, read, or listen to anything about the Finals without hearing the "Celtics and Warriors are the two most efficient defenses" in the League...and for good reason. Both teams made it here on A+ defending. During the regular season, the C's were second in defensive rating and first in opponents' PPG. Warriors were first in defensive rating and third in opponents PPG. Both teams lock it down.
The Celtics will constantly attack Steph Curry and Kerr will need to develop a strategy to hide him on D. I find this to be the biggest hole the C's will try to exploit. The Celtics are tall, long, and athletic - they fill in lanes very quickly and can switch on just about anything. Smart will be picking Steph up at half court and he and others will have to fight through a wave of screens to guard Curry. Curry's shot attempts need to be limited for the C's success.
Even if they can contain Chef, they will still need to deal with a resurging Klay and the Poole Party. Plus, the new-look Wiggins is not one to sleep on. Wiggins showed he can step his game up. The last series against the Mavs was maybe the best I've seen him play and I think he will often be the primary defender against Tatum. This will be a matchup to closely watch.
If the Time Lord can remain healthy, he will continue to protect the rim like a guard dog and that's huge for Boston. His impact is sorely missed when he's off the court. Looney just doesn't have the same ability as Robert Williams but still does a solid job. Obviously the Dubs have Draymond Green, who's been a great defender for years. Sure he will play well, but I think the Celts have too many guys who can attack in a multitude of ways. Look for Brown to slash and play excellent on-ball defense. This sentence is extra wordy and sounds like a Hubie Brown quote, but the Celtics will be able to defend Golden State better and more consistently than the Warriors will be able to consistently defend the Celtics.
The Celtics have killer wings in Tatum and Horford. These two gents have been ballin.' Big Al was the best player against Milwaukee and Tatum just shelved his Larry Bird trophy for MVP of the ECF. Opposite them is Draymond and Wiggins. We know Draymond doesn't really put the ball in the hoop, but is a very solid all-around player. Wiggins has also become a reliable two-way guy.
Tatum is averaging 27 PPG , about 6 dimes, and over 6.5 RPG. Scoring + playmaking. Horf is almost averaging a double-double, with nearly 12 and 10 per game, while adding a swat and a half. Both are playing great defense and picking up other teams' best guys. Draymond pretty much averages between 7 and 8 in the three major statistical categories and Wiggins is dumping in over 15 with 7 boards.
Even casuals will tell you they want Tatum and Horford over Green and Wiggins and so do I. We saw Tatum destroy Miami's small-ball lineup. I see him doing the same to GSW's small-ball lineup. He's also shown the willingness and playmaking ability to pass out of the double-team - in plainest terms, he's going to be a problem. Horford will continue with his dominant 'old man' game. He will hurt Golden State inside and out, especially if Looney isn't in.
This is a little tricky with injuries to Golden State players. Porter Jr. injured his foot, Iguodala has missed a ton of games recovering from a neck injury, and Payton II is still recovering from his fractured elbow. All three are listed as questionable for Game 1, though Porter Jr. and Payton II are supposedly more likely to play. Both of these guys have been excellent off the bench for Kerr.
Even if Iggy plays he will be in such poor game shape that he will probably be a non-factor. Poole will come off the bench. He's obviously been a beast and will log starter-type minutes. Kerr knows his personnel very well and will adjust accordingly.
The bench for Boston has been touch-and-go...Pritchard and Theis were relied upon against Milwaukee but were ghosts in the Miami series. I see both getting more minutes against the Warriors, but Udoka's inconsistent use of them might hurt their confidence. Grant Williams did a heck of a job against Giannis but is only effective when he hits his corner 3s. He can be a complete liability on offense if he doesn't get it going early on.
Derrick White has been tremendous for Boston both offensively and defensively. For stretches of the Miami series he was the best Celtic on the court and kept them afloat in some games. I see him maintaining this level of play in the Finals. Super athlete and young'n, Kuminga, will probably get more minutes to contend with Boston's height and athleticism. If GSW can be relatively healthy, I see their bench being a contributor to the Dubs winning.
Lastly, we have the value of experience. Golden State has a combined 123 NBA Finals games played against Boston's 0. They've been to 6 of the last 8 Finals and the core unit has played together for a while. That's a dynasty. Plus, experience against LeBron must count for something. In the playoffs, experience is crucial and this gives the Warriors a massive advantage. Aside from Horf and Smart, the Celtics are pretty young and it shows at times. Blown leads and bonehead plays. Milk the clock somehow translates to jack a deep three seconds into the shot clock. Kerr and his veteran group will know what to do and I see this being a big factor in the series.
Ahhh, so, ultimately I hope this is a fun series. Both Conference Finals had some unexciting games, and for a fan of the sport, I hope the Finals is different.
I'm conflicted on multiple levels. The Celtics had to grind out two full 7-game series but have a wave of momentum going, which is prime in the postseason. Previously, I went with my gut and felt Golden State wasn't going to get by Luka, especially after their uninspiring series against Memphis. But they looked liked a different team against Dallas and I think they will be that same team against Boston. One minute my heart says Celtics in 7 the next it says Warriors. Five minutes after that, my brain says Warriors in 7 and then the next it's Celtics...fortunately, my plums say tension, and I love tense games!