The matchup is set. The 2022 NBA Finals will feature two of the premier franchises in the league.

The Celtics, currently tied with the Lakers at 17 titles, will look to add banner No. 18 to the TD Garden rafters. The Warriors will try to add title No. 7 to their record books.

This is going to be a star-studded affair featuring the Celtics’ elite defense going up against an equally elite Warriors offense. Which team will raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

MORE: NBA Finals MVP favorites, sleepers and long shots

The key matchup

How will Stephen Curry fare against the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year?

Marcus Smart made headlines when these teams matched up in March, injuring Curry on what Steve Kerr later deemed “a dangerous play.” Prior to that injury, Curry had missed three of his four field goal attempts and committed four turnovers.

Curry has had his explosions against previous versions of the Celtics, though. Last year, he dropped 47 and 38 points in two close losses.

This year’s Celtics defense is different. They’ve been one of the best defenses in recent memory in the second half of the season and NBA Playoffs. Curry will face more switches, better overall personnel and much more dynamic rim protection than he has thus far.

Smart will likely be the main guy on Curry, but the Celtics don’t have any weak defenders to target in their starting lineup. Curry is going to have to work for everything.

The key stat

Points in the paint. The Warriors were able to feast off the Mavericks’ lack of rim protection, averaging nearly 50 points per game in the paint throughout the Western Conference Finals. As a frame of reference, the Heat, Celtics and Mavs averaged between 32 and 40 in the Conference Finals.

The Warriors get a lot of attention for their 3-point shooting prowess, but rim pressure can create open looks for their shooters. The Mavs weren’t able to show big bodies when the Warriors got past their first line of defense. They also made too many mistakes in communication guarding the Warriors’ split cuts and movement-heavy offense.

Can the Celtics, a switch-heavy team susceptible to slips to the basket, make less mistakes off that player movement than the Mavs did? They have more defensive talent, but it is going to be the mental errors that they have to avoid.

The X-factor

Warriors

Jordan Poole. His offense has been otherworldy. His defense has also been otherworldy — but in a bad way.

Can the Warriors hide him? They tried having him show aggressively on ball screens in their series against the Mavericks, and he could not execute that coverage properly.

Will they stick with that plan? Or will they cook up something new to prevent him from getting ruthlessly switched onto Jayson Tatum and attacked?

Jordan Poole and Robert Williams III

Celtics

Robert Williams. How well can that surgically-repaired knee hold up?

The Celtics have looked like a different team when he’s been on the floor. His rim protection and defensive rebounding are game-changing. That rebounding is important given how surprisingly effective the Warriors — and Andrew Wiggins in particular — have been at crashing the offensive glass.

Williams has covered immense amounts of space to clean up all of the team’s defensive issues. He’s even flown out to 3-point shooters in the corners for big blocks on the perimeter.

If he isn’t constrained by any sort of minutes limit, then he is going to take that Celtics defense to the next level.

Warriors vs. Celtics series schedule

Here is the full schedule for the 2022 NBA Finals.

Date Game Time (ET) TV channel
June 2 Game 1 9 p.m. ABC
June 5 Game 2 8 p.m. ABC
June 8 Game 3 9 p.m. ABC
June 10 Game 4 9 p.m. ABC
June 13 Game 5* 9 p.m. ABC
June 16 Game 6* 9 p.m. ABC
June 19 Game 7* 8 p.m. ABC

*If necessary

Warriors vs. Celtics series odds

Here are the odds for the 2022 NBA Finals (via Vegas Insider).

  • Warriors: -155
  • Celtics: +130

Warriors vs. Celtics picks, predictions

This is going to be a great NBA Finals. If the Warriors can find a way to confuse the Celtics’ dominant defense with their flurry of movement, then they will win. If the Celtics can figure out a way to score enough, then they will win.

A few of the games in this series will come down to which team can hit more above-the-break 3-pointers. Only the Mavericks took more of them than these two teams during the NBA Playoffs, and their fortunes waxed and waned based on how hot they were in a given game.

When you have two teams that are evenly matched, it oftentimes comes down to tough shot-making from deep. The Warriors were the best team in the league at those shots during the regular season, and the Celtics were 20th. The Warriors have a clear advantage there.

Ultimately, though, I can’t see anyone cracking this Celtics defense. They will drop a few games to hot shooting, but this is the team best equipped to handle that devastating Warriors offense.

The Celtics lost to the Warriors early in the regular season when they struggled out of the gate, but they were a completely different team in the second half of the season. They blew the Warriors out in the second meeting — with the caveat that Curry did miss most of that game.

I expect a rock fight of a series, and the Celtics know how to win that way. I’m picking them in seven.

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