No one expected the Boston Celtics to make the NBA Finals after they began the season 18-21. Not many thought the Golden State Warriors would represent the Western Conference over the Suns or Grizzlies, either.
And now, here we are with two of the NBA’s most storied franchises playing each other for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. One used to be a dynasty and the other is trying to prove they still are.
This has the potential to be a phenomenal series. The Celtics are +130 on BetMGM to win the championship and I believe they’re going to pull it off. Here are two reasons why I think they’ll win and a couple things I’m nervous about.
Boston’s suffocating defense
When you have the NBA Defensive Player of the Year and he ranks fourth out of your five starters in defensive rating, that’s a pretty good defense. Everyone in Boston’s starting lineup ranks in the top 18 in defensive rating. It’s no wonder the Celtics led the league in defensive efficiency this season, topping all teams in opponent shooting percentage from both outside and inside the 3-point line.
That’s a great start to stopping Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole. The Warriors are used to running their competition ragged for 48 minutes, but the Celtics are a young team full of versatile defenders who can stay with anyone Golden State has on the court.
Not only does Boston boast the NBA’s best defense, but the Warriors commit the second-most turnovers per play (13.4%). That mix alone could end up being the difference in the series.
The road to the championship is a two-way street
The Celtics are blessed with two of the best two-way players in the league in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Al Horford are no slouches when their numbers are called on offense. The same can be said for Grant Williams and Derrick White. All of these guys are solid on both ends of the court and two of them are elite.
Golden State doesn't have that luxury. Curry and Andrew Wiggins are excellent two-way players, but we could see Boston take advantage of their size at the guard position to back Curry down in the paint. Outside of that pair, anyone who sets foot on the floor for the Warriors is either an offensive or defensive specialist. Thompson and Poole can fill up the basket, but they’re both defensive sieves. Draymond Green and Kevon Looney are intimidating defenders who aren’t much of an offensive threat, averaging less than eight points per game this season.
Boston’s players have a lot of playoff experience, but no one on the roster has been to the Finals. The Warriors, on the other hand, are playing in their sixth Finals in eight years. In addition to 123 games' worth of Finals experience, Steve Kerr’s team also has a killer instinct you won’t find in Boston, which has made a habit out of taking their foot off the gas and blowing large leads.
Another terrible habit that could prove fatal for the Celtics if they don’t curb it is their penchant for staying back on the offensive end and arguing perceived missed foul calls with the refs, gifting opponents 5-on-4 transition opportunities. This is mainly a Tatum and Williams problem, and it’s been shocking to see this behavior in the playoffs, where every possession is so important. Golden State will absolutely make the Celtics pay for these types of mistakes.
Golden State is undefeated at home in the 2022 playoffs, while Boston is 7-2 on the road. The giant concern I have for Thursday night’s Game 1 is the short turnaround time for the Celtics, who wrapped up their second straight seven-game series on Sunday while the Warriors have enjoyed a full week of rest.
The biggest question mark of all is whether Robert Williams III will be healthy enough to be effective. When he’s at full strength, Time Lord is an unbelievable defender. Unfortunately, he’s been dealing with soreness in his left knee that he had surgery on a couple months ago. Williams has looked good in the majority of the 11 games he’s played in these playoffs, but he was completely out of sorts in Boston’s Game 7 win over Miami. Maybe the brutal pre-Finals schedule of one day off in between games was to blame and he’ll perform closer to his ceiling now with the extra rest, but it’s something we won’t know until the series tips off. If we get an effective Time Lord in the Finals, I love Boston’s chances of winning their 18th NBA title.
Stats provided by Basketball Reference, teamrankings.com, StatMuse, and nba.com.