The 2022 NBA Finals are set, and fans everywhere are waiting with bated breath to see this matchup. The Celtics have just gone through the gauntlet in the Eastern Conference making their way through Kevin Durant and the Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks, and Jimmy Butler and the Heat in a grueling 18 games. Most view the road the Warriors took out West as an easier route, but they’ve had a great opportunity to round into top form, sharpening their variety of tools against Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP. Let’s dive into what each team brings to the table as the series tips off.
Golden State Warriors
“You don’t wanna see us next year.”Stephen Curry
Once the 2020-2021 campaign ended, Stephen Curry put the league on notice with this iconic quote. So far this season, he’s delivered. Before the season started, most NBA experts had the Warriors finishing on the play-in game border. However, they proved all of the doubters wrong, earning the third seed in the West and an NBA Finals appearance.
The Warriors head into the Finals with the highest rated offense in the playoffs scoring 117.8 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. Stephen Curry remains one of the biggest game-breakers in the league, regularly bending defenses to his will these playoffs. Although Steph has been having a slower playoff (by his standards) shooting 52% FG/ 38% 3PT/ 82% FT, fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson appears to be back.
The key for the Warriors in this series will be to keep up their varied offensive approach. If they let the Celtics slow them down and turn them into a basic isolation/pick and roll team in the half-court they could be in trouble. They have the lowest percentage of Self-Created Field Goal Attempts in the playoffs this year according to PBP Stats, keeping that number low will be crucial against the Celtics who have multiple elite on-ball defenders.
On January 1, 2022, the Boston Celtics were 2 games below .500 with a 17-19 record. The national discussion around the team was centered around breaking up Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown because it seemed like the two players could not co-exist.
Furthermore, the first year of Ime Udoka’s coaching career was not looking great. Once 2022 began, the Celtics went 31-11 and ended the season with the NBA’s second-best efficiency differential at +7.4. For reference, only the Phoenix Suns are ahead of them according to Cleaning the Glass. Few teams have turnarounds like this mid-season, and even fewer of them end up getting to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics get things done on the defensive end, led by Defensive Player of the Year winner Marcus Smart. They have the second-best defense in the playoffs this year according to Cleaning the Glass, only allowing a stifling 106 points per 100 possessions. The only team with a better defensive rating in the playoffs? The Milwaukee Bucks, who got a nice boost due to their first-round matchup with the hobbled Chicago Bulls.
The key for the Celtics is to disharmonize the Warriors’ beautiful offense as much as they can. They have the ideal personnel for the job; the Celtics should be able to switch every screen effectively when they play small with Al Horford at the 5 to counter the Warriors’ current iteration of the “Death Lineup.” The Warriors are no slouches on the defensive side of the ball, so Boston will need to continue looking for transition opportunities to bolster their half-court offense which can become sluggish at times. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics have been one of the best transition teams in the playoffs adding 4.2 points per 100 possessions through transition opportunities.
Boston and Golden State are very closely matched in terms of team composition. There is not a massive talent differential – I believe Jayson Tatum will be the best player by a slim margin. In the comparison between each roster’s offensive efficiency below there is no clear outlier on either team.
In a tightly contested series, the teams match up well and the series should be very fun to watch. I believe the old saying “styles make fights” applies here.
Officially, I’m leaning towards the Warriors winning in 7 games. I think their experience and home-court advantage will make the difference in the end.