This would be Stephen Curry’s fourth NBA championship, or Jayson Tatum’s first. It would be a comeback story for the ages for Klay Thompson, or a fairy tale ending to the debut of first head coach Ime Udoka.
A lot is at stake in the 2022 NBA Finals for Golden State and the Boston Celtics, two teams with something to prove. For Golden State, it’s a chance to defy the odds to revive a dynasty after two seasons out of the spotlight. For Boston and its lineup of rising stars, this is, as they say, the time when legends are made.
Here’s a look at what to expect in the NBA Finals, which kicks off Thursday in San Francisco.
Third-seeded Golden State has home-court advantage over second-seeded Boston due to its better regular-season record.
Experience may not be everything.
After the Boston Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, their comments about the showdown with Golden State in the NBA Finals conveyed a mixture of confidence and deference.
“We know we’re going to face a great team with the Warriors. Great players, great organization,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “They have the track record to prove it. They know exactly what is needed. They have been here. They are veterinarians. We know we have a long road ahead of us, but we are ready for the challenge.
These finals are marked by a gap in experience, with a team well seasoned in the basketball championship and another filled with newcomers at this stage. Golden State has five players who have made multiple Finals appearances – Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala. The Celtics have no successful players so far.
Part of that is a function of age. Boston’s roster is filled with players in their 20s, while Golden State is a group of 30s whose lives have changed since their first Finals appearances.
“Just being able to balance even just, like, family life,” Curry said after Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. “I’m lucky to have kids who are now 9, 6 and 3. Like, when I was back in 2014, 2015, chasing those playoffs, just a different vibe in terms of everything what happens in life.”
Smart was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, the first time Curry, Green and Thompson won an NBA championship. Jayson Tatum, who was named the most valuable player in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, was in 11th grade. Their teammate Jaylen Brown had just graduated high school and was heading to college basketball at the University of California, Berkeley — just 11 miles from where Golden State played at the time.
By the 2015 championship, with the exception of Looney, whom the Warriors drafted a few weeks after winning the title, Golden State’s comeback finalists had all gone through years of seasoning and early playoff exits. .
The 2021-22 Celtics have also spent the past few years learning how to win in the playoffs and dealing with the bitterness of losing. Boston has been in the playoffs every year since 2015 and has advanced to the Conference Finals four times.
But Golden State’s track record shows that Finals experience isn’t everything.
When the Warriors won the 2015 championship, they faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by LeBron James. James was making his fifth straight appearance in the final and his sixth overall. But he couldn’t stop Golden State from winning the series in six games.
But James was also relatively new to this team. Golden State’s depth of experience will help carry the team this month.
Prediction: Golden State in six.
Draymond Green is the “emotional leader” of Golden State.
Stephen Curry has drained more 3 points than anyone in history. Klay Thompson is still relishing his triumphant return after two cataclysmic injuries. And Jordan Poole, emerging from the doldrums of Golden State’s two seasons on dynastic hiatus, has become one of the league’s most dynamic young scorers.
As the Warriors return to the NBA Finals, several players have fueled their run. But is it possible, amidst all the pyrotechnics of the team, that Draymond Green – the team’s spokesman, who is very opinionated and torments the referees – is somehow overlooked? Alright, maybe not. But in his 10th season, Green is making his sixth trip to the Finals, and that’s no accident. He’s the defense-focused forward-passing force that binds his teammates in more ways than one.
“Our emotional leader,” coach Steve Kerr said.
And Green has rarely, if ever, played better basketball than he did in the playoffs. In Golden State’s final win over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, he had 17 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while shooting 6 of 7 from the field. He led the offensive. He was a threat to the defense. He used five of his six personal fouls.
He also avoided participating in many after-school programs that had hampered him in the past – at least until the end of the game, when he talked about facing the Celtics with a championship on the line. The problem was that the Celtics were still playing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, the Heat would force a Game 7 before going short. But in Green’s mind, he was never wrong.
“I thought they were the best team, and clearly I was not farGreen said this week on San Francisco’s KGMZ-FM, Golden State’s radio broadcast partner.
In his own way, Green was a source of stability for the organization as the team struggled with injuries over the past few seasons. He mentored his younger teammates. He was in uniform when Curry and Thompson were away. He admitted it wasn’t always easy: He was used to competing for championships, and suddenly Golden State had the worst record in the league.
Now back alongside Curry and Thompson, Green has another title in sight.
“I can’t say that I thought going into this season, ‘Yo, we’re going to win a championship’ or ‘We’re going to be in the NBA Finals,'” Green said. “But I always believed that with the three of us, we had a chance.”
Prediction: More rested and more experienced, Golden State won the series in six games.
They are both excellent in defense, but different in attack.
The ties between Celtics coach Ime Udoka and Golden State coach Steve Kerr – both former NBA players – are many. Both led their teams to the Finals in their first seasons as head coach, Kerr in 2014-15 when Golden State won the championship, and Udoka this year.
They are also linked to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Udoka was an assistant for Spurs from 2012 to 2019, which culminated in a championship in 2014. Udoka also played three seasons for Spurs, while Kerr played four seasons at San Antonio and won two championships. Both also worked with Popovich on the United States Men’s National Basketball Team.
Popovich’s influence is evident. Udoka and Kerr preached the value of a tough defense. Boston and Golden State were the two best defensive teams in the NBA during the regular season. And like Popovich, coaches are willing to openly criticize players publicly.
Where they diverge is offensively.
Udoka installed a methodical and slower attack. The Celtics frequently run isolations, ranking near the top of the NBA during the regular season, while Golden State was near the bottom.
Part of it comes down to personnel: Boston’s two best players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are able to reach the edge and break through defenses one-on-one, but less so with passing. Also, the Celtics are launching Marcus Smart at point guard, and he’s not a traditional passer.
Kerr, meanwhile, has long preached an egalitarian offense based on ball movement — so much so that Kevin Durant, after leaving Golden State for the Nets in 2019, complained that Kerr’s offense had been limited. . This season, Golden State led the NBA in scoring cuts, while the Celtics were just around league average. Golden State also finished second in the league in total assists.
There is also another difference. Kerr is more willing to experiment with lineups. He gave important minutes to rookies such as Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, mixing them in and out of the rotation. In the playoffs, Kerr gave 19-year-old Kuminga three starts in the semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Moody, 20, was in the rotation against the Dallas Mavericks in the Conference Finals.
Udoka preferred to keep his rotations fairly predictable, especially in the playoffs, rarely reaching the Celtics’ bench even when fouled.
Prediction: Celtics in six. Their defense is well designed to hunt Stephen Curry.