It could be Stephen Curry’s fourth N.B.A. championship, or Jayson Tatum’s first. It could be a comeback story for the ages for Klay Thompson, or a fairy-tale ending to the debut of the first-time head coach Ime Udoka.
Much is at stake within the 2022 N.B.A. finals for Golden State and the Boston Celtics, two groups with one thing to show. For Golden State, it’s an opportunity to defy the chances in opposition to reviving a dynasty after two seasons away from the highlight. For Boston and its lineup of rising stars, that is, as they are saying, when legends are made.
Here is a take a look at what to anticipate within the N.B.A. finals, which start Thursday in San Francisco.
Third-seeded Golden State has home-court benefit over second-seeded Boston due to its higher regular-season document.
Experience is probably not the whole lot.
After the Boston Celtics received Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, their phrases about dealing with Golden State within the N.B.A. finals conveyed a mix of confidence and deference.
“We know we’re going up against a great team with the Warriors. Great players, great organization,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart mentioned. “They have the track record to prove it. They know exactly what it takes. They’ve been here. They’re vets. We know we’ve got a long road in front of us, but we’re up for the challenge.”
These finals are marked by a spot in expertise, with one staff nicely seasoned in championship basketball and one other crammed with newcomers to this stage. Golden State has 5 gamers who’ve made a number of finals appearances — Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala. The Celtics don’t have any gamers who’ve made it this far prior to now.
Part of that may be a perform of age. Boston’s roster is crammed with gamers of their 20s, whereas Golden State is a bunch of 30-somethings whose lives have modified since their first finals appearances.
“Just being able to balance even just, like, family life,” Curry mentioned after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. “I’m blessed to have kids that are now 9, 6 and 3. Like, when I was back in ’14, ’15, chasing those playoffs, just a different vibe in terms of everything that’s going on in life.”
Smart was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, the primary time Curry, Green and Thompson received an N.B.A. championship. Jayson Tatum, who was named the Eastern Conference finals most respected participant this 12 months, was in eleventh grade. Their teammate Jaylen Brown had simply completed highschool and was headed to play faculty basketball on the University of California, Berkeley — simply 11 miles from the place Golden State performed on the time.
By the 2015 championship, except for Looney, whom the Warriors drafted a number of weeks after successful the title, Golden State’s return finals members had all been by years of seasoning and early playoff exits.
The 2021-22 Celtics have equally spent the previous few years studying the best way to win within the playoffs, and coping with the bitterness of shedding. Boston has been to the playoffs yearly since 2015 and made it to the convention finals 4 occasions.
But Golden State’s journey exhibits that finals expertise isn’t the whole lot.
When the Warriors received the 2015 championship, they confronted a Cleveland Cavaliers staff led by LeBron James. James was making his fifth consecutive finals look and sixth total. But he couldn’t cease Golden State from successful the collection in six video games.
But James was additionally comparatively new to that staff. The depth of Golden State’s expertise will assist carry the staff this month.
Prediction: Golden State in six.
Draymond Green is Golden State’s ‘emotional leader.’
Stephen Curry has famously drained extra 3-pointers than anybody in historical past. Klay Thompson continues to be basking in his triumphant return from two cataclysmic accidents. And Jordan Poole, out of the morass of Golden State’s two seasons on dynastic hiatus, has emerged as one of the dynamic younger scorers within the league.
As the Warriors return to the N.B.A. finals, a number of gamers have fueled their run. But is it attainable amid all of the staff’s pyrotechnics that Draymond Green — the staff’s extremely opinionated, referee-tormenting spokesman — is someway being neglected? OK, possibly not. But in his tenth season, Green is making his sixth journey to the finals, and it’s no coincidence. He is the defense-minded, pass-first power who binds his teammates in additional methods than one.
“Our emotional leader,” Coach Steve Kerr mentioned.
And Green has seldom, if ever, performed higher basketball than he has this postseason. In Golden State’s closeout win over the Dallas Mavericks within the Western Conference finals, he collected 17 factors, 9 assists and 6 rebounds whereas taking pictures 6 of seven from the sphere. He quarterbacked the offense. He was a menace on protection. He used up 5 of his six private fouls.
He additionally averted partaking in most of the extracurriculars that had hampered him up to now — at the least till after the sport, when he spoke about dealing with the Celtics with a championship at stake. The downside was that the Celtics had been nonetheless enjoying the Miami Heat within the Eastern Conference finals. In reality, the Heat would power a Game 7 earlier than falling brief. But in Green’s thoughts, he was by no means incorrect.
“I thought they were the better team, and clearly I wasn’t far off,” Green mentioned this week on San Francisco’s KGMZ-FM, Golden State’s radio broadcast companion.
In his personal means, Green was a supply of stability for the group because the staff labored with accidents in latest seasons. He mentored his youthful teammates. He was in uniform when Curry and Thompson had been absent. He acknowledged that it wasn’t all the time straightforward: He was accustomed to competing for championships, and immediately Golden State had the worst document within the league.
Now, again alongside Curry and Thompson, Green has one other title in sight.
“I can’t say that I thought coming into this season, like, ‘Yo, we’re going to win a championship,’ or, ‘We’re going to be in the N.B.A. finals,’ ” Green mentioned. “But I always believed with us three that we have a chance.”
Prediction: More rested and extra skilled, Golden State wins the collection in six video games.
They’re each nice on protection, however totally different on offense.
The connections between Celtics Coach Ime Udoka and Golden State Coach Steve Kerr — each former N.B.A. function gamers — are quite a few. Both led their groups to the finals of their first seasons as a head coach, Kerr in 2014-15, when Golden State received the championship, and Udoka this 12 months.
They are additionally related to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Udoka was an assistant on the Spurs from 2012 to 2019, which resulted in a championship in 2014. Udoka additionally performed three seasons for the Spurs, whereas Kerr performed 4 seasons in San Antonio and received two championships. Both additionally worked with Popovich on the U.S. males’s nationwide basketball staff.
Popovich’s affect is evident. Udoka and Kerr have preached the worth of a staunch protection. Boston and Golden State had been the two best defensive teams within the N.B.A. throughout the common season. And like Popovich, the coaches are willing to bluntly criticize players publicly.
Where they diverge is offensively.
Udoka has put in a methodical, slower offense. The Celtics incessantly run isolations, rating near the top of the N.B.A. throughout the common season, whereas Golden State was close to the underside.
In half, that comes right down to personnel: Boston’s two finest gamers, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are adept at attending to the rim and breaking defenses down one-on-one however much less so at passing. In addition, the Celtics begin Marcus Smart at level guard, and he isn’t a standard pass-first guard.
Kerr, in the meantime, has lengthy preached an egalitarian offense hinging on ball motion — a lot in order that Kevin Durant, after leaving Golden State for the Nets in 2019, complained that Kerr’s offense had been limiting. This season, Golden State led the N.B.A. in scoring off cuts to the basket, whereas the Celtics had been simply round league common. Golden State additionally was second within the league in total passes.
There’s one other distinction, too. Kerr is extra keen to experiment with lineups. He has given vital minutes to rookies reminiscent of Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, shuffling them out and in of the rotation. In the playoffs, Kerr gave the 19-year-old Kuminga three begins within the semifinal collection in opposition to the Memphis Grizzlies. Moody, 20, was within the rotation in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks within the convention finals.
Udoka has most popular to maintain his rotations pretty predictable, significantly within the playoffs, not often reaching down the Celtics’ bench even within the case of foul hassle.
Prediction: Celtics in six. Their protection is nicely designed to chase Stephen Curry round.