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Saturday, July 2, 2022

2022 NBA Finals preview

The Warriors and the Celtics face off in the NBA Finals for the first time in 58 years

 

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

 

The 2022 NBA Playoffs have reached the end game — the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors are set to play the Boston Celtics for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. 

In the regular season, the Warriors and the Celtics split the two games against each other. This is only the second time these clubs have met in the NBA Finals, their first meeting coming in 1964 with Boston winning the title. Both clubs have won numerous championships since then, the Celtics with 17 and Warriors with six.

The road to the Finals wasn’t easy for either of these teams. The Warriors had to take on the Denver Nuggets, who have the NBA’s regular season MVP in Nikola Jokic, in the first round. Then they had to beat the up and coming Memphis Grizzlies, who had the league’s Most Improved Player in Ja Morant, in the Conference Semifinals. In the Western Conference Finals, Golden State faced the Dallas Mavericks and their superstar Luka Doncic, beating them 4-1 to secure their place in the Finals representing the West. With point-guard Stephen Curry winning the inaugural Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP trophy, averaging 23.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds and shooting 43.9% from the three-point line. 

Boston’s road was just as tough, they were able to sweep the Brooklyn Nets who have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round. In the semifinals the Celtics dethroned Giannis Antetokounmpo and defending champions Milwaukee Bucks, which concluded in an exhilarating seven game series. Then, the Celtics took on the Miami Heat in a defensive battle for the Eastern Conference Finals, which ended in another epic seven game series in Boston’s favor. The Celtics all-star small forward, Jayson Tatum played exceptionally well averaging 25 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and all while shooting 46% from the floor. Tatum’s performance was awarded with the first ever Larry Bird Eastern Conference MVP trophy, it’s almost poetic that it was awarded to a very promising Celtic. 

With the NBA Finals set, it’s time for a closer look at each team’s strengths, weaknesses and key match-ups. To start, both Golden State and Boston were the two-best defensive teams in the regular season, the Celtics ranked one and the Warriors following after both of these clubs have carried that trait into the postseason. Meaning, this series is going to be a defensive war of who wants it more. 

A prominent key difference between the teams is their experience. The Warriors have been able to retain their championship core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Because of this, their chemistry is almost unrivaled in all of the league. However, even though the Celtics have a young team, they’ve been at the cusp of reaching the NBA Finals in recent years going to the Eastern Conference Finals four out of the last six years. Part of that success is that they too have kept their core players of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Even though Golden State has a lot of championship experience, Boston’s chemistry shouldn’t be discredited. Each team’s defensive prowess and core chemistry are some general strengths which apply to both clubs. Whichever team can capitalize on those, especially defense, will have a good chance of winning the championship. But each team has their own key strengths and weaknesses.

A key strength for the Warriors is their ball movement and movement away from the ball. Each player on their offense usually touches the ball at least once before a shot go’s up. While doing so, each player, most notably Curry, is constantly moving without the ball to find an open shot. This slight, but completely effort based, difference in their offense contributes to easy Warriors assists which means points. The Warriors average 28.3 assists per game in the playoffs translating to almost double the points. 

Another strength for the Warriors has been their role players, exceptions being All-Star Andrew Wiggins and an ascending player in Jordan Poole. Both of these players are averaging 15 plus points and despite this being Poole’s first playoffs, he’s the Warriors third best scorer on the team. Then there’s Kevon Looney, who’s tied with Wiggins for averaging the most offensive rebounds among active players in the playoffs. These three players alone need to be accounted for whenever they’re on the floor. Not to mention the Warriors talented rookies Jonathan  Kuminga and Moses Moody who have had big moments and minutes in these playoffs. Kuminga with a few double-digit point games throughout the playoffs and Moody who’s shooting 53% from the three. If both rookies get playing time, they could serve as a boost if Golden State needs it. Because of these role players, Golden State’s bench leads the playoffs in scoring at 37.8 points per game. The combination of their role players and star players leaves Warriors with the highest scoring offense in the postseason at 114.5 points per game.

Now for the Celtics who’s main strength is their defense. Anchored by the Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, this team only allows an average of 101 points per game. The Celtics perimeter defense allows for that low opponents points per game, with the team only allowing opponents to shoot 31% from deep. It’s going to be tough to contain the best shooter in the history of basketball, Stephen Curry and one of the best shooting teams in the Warriors, but the Celtics have proven their defense is the best in the league. 

Another key strength for the Celtics is their front court. Head coach Ime Udoka has made excellent adjustments in terms of who’s playing in the front court. The Celtics can start with a tall lineup in Al Horford and Robert Williams, or go with a small ball line-up with Grant Williams. Horford and Grant average double-digit points with Robert close behind. Not to mention, all three of them average more than four plus rebounds a game, and each gets a block per game. These rotation adjustments and depth in the front court, if capitalized on offensively, could be big for the Celtics. 

Even with these and other strengths, like the Warriors shooting percentage being better than the Celtics or the Celtics defense being better than the Warriors, there are caveats in each club’s game. One of them being their turnovers as the Warriors average almost 15 turnovers per game and give up an average of 16 points off them. The Celtics are no better, averaging 14 turnovers while also giving up 16 points. Because both teams share this undesired trait, whichever team plays the best defense and can play within those turnovers has a good chance of winning the championship. 

An individual weakness for the Warriors is how they settle for shots. Instead of possibly passing for a better shot, the Warriors tend to settle for contested shots, or pass up open lanes to the basket. This combined with the turnovers can hinder Golden State’s offensive potential immensely. They are also lackadaisical on offense at times, which could be bad against a formidable defense like the Celtics. Fortunately for Boston, they average a little more points off turnovers than Golden State which can be an issue for the Warriors. 

However, the Celtics’ key individual weakness is their tendency to foul. They commit an average of 22 fouls per game, which is not significantly more than Golden State, but any game could come down to free-throws. This is a hindrance to the Celtics overall great defense and could potentially bite them in the back in clutch situations. Another, often overlooked weakness is Marcus Smart in the clutch. Oftentimes, he tries to overmanage while having two of the best players in the league around him. Smart then makes bad decisions, for instance letting the ball roll in without starting the clock while up in a close game as he did this past Game Seven against the Miami Heat. These factors together or alone can make or break a game for the Celtics.

Last are some key matchups between the two teams. Considering each team starts with their tallest and most played line-up of players these matchups are one’s to look for. The most notable matchups are Draymond Green guarding Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart on Stephen Curry. Each of the team’s best defensive players against their best offensive players. Both these matchups will make for some great highlights and possessions. Now depending on who’s on the court for the Celtics and Warriors, meaning whether or not they go small ball, you could see a mix of Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins taking turns on Tatum while also switching against Jaylen Brown and of course vice-versa. With Tatum, Brown and Smart switching between Curry, Thompson and Wiggins, the Celtics are going to need to find an answer for Jordan Poole off the Warriors bench.

An underlooked matchup is going to be on the glass, between the Warriors’ Kevon Looney and the Celtics’ Robert Williams. Whichever one of those two is able to come down with the most rebounds is going to heavily impact the outcome of the series. More rebounds leads to more possessions for one team and less for the other, allowing for more control over the game. Not to mention, the Warriors average 14.5 second chance points compared to the Celtics 11.8. Another front court matchup is between Draymond Green and Al Horford. Whoever wins between those two, will no doubt be beneficial for their squad. However, the Celtics have more front court depth than the Warriors meaning winning these matchups is crucial in determining a champion.  

Getting to the NBA Finals isn’t easy and neither is winning the championship. Both the Warriors and Celtics have proven to be the best this year’s conferences have to offer. Each club has numerous strengths and weaknesses which will either be expanded upon or imploded upon. Both teams have great head coaches with Steve Kerr for the Warriors and first-year head coach Ime Udoka for the Celtics. One of these teams will be crowned the 2022 NBA champions, however, this series is going to be the most competitive battle the league has seen in quite some time. 

 

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org

 

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