The Warriors and Celtics bring contrasting strengths to a competitive NBA Finals

Christopher Dean Hopkins | June 2, 2022
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, left, and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams reach for the ball March 16 during a regular season game. The two teams will face off in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night.
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, left, and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams reach for the ball March 16 during a regular season game. The two teams will face off in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night. Jeff Chiu | AP

The NBA Finals begin tonight, and the teams will be familiar even if some of the faces aren’t. The Golden State Warriors played in every finals from 2015 to 2019 and are back after a couple of years away. The Boston Celtics haven’t gotten this far for a dozen years, but are making their 22nd trip to the finals as a franchise.

It’s a matchup between a blistering offense and a juggernaut defense — a Cuisinart vs. a woodchipper, as True Hoop’s David Thorpe puts it — both of which have gotten stronger since the playoffs began.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Maxi Kleber of the Dallas Mavericks during the Western Conference Finals.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket against Maxi Kleber of the Dallas Mavericks during the Western Conference Finals. Tom Pennington | Getty Images

Neither team were favored to get here — the Celtics, WGBH notes, with an ugly 20-21 record halfway through the season, and the Warriors were only the No. 3 seed in the West.

But the Warriors were steady as they fought past Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies and Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics jump in the air prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. The Celtics would win three of the four games played in Miami during the series.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics jump in the air prior to the start of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. The Celtics would win three of the four games played in Miami during the series. Michael Reaves | Getty Images

The Celtics, meanwhile, swept away the loaded Brooklyn Nets in the first round, and demonstrated remarkable resilience against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat, NPR’s Tom Goldman told Morning Edition.

“They’ve won three elimination games, won seven games on the road — including last Sunday in Miami to clinch a spot in the finals,” Goldman said. “Home court advantage [is] such a big deal in the NBA playoffs, and to overcome that seven times? That’s impressive.”

Still, he said, the Warriors are viewed as having a narrow edge in what should be a closely fought series.

Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors shoots a three point basket against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. Thompson returned to the Warriors this year after sitting out the past two seasons with knee and Achilles tendon injuries.
Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors shoots a three point basket against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. Thompson returned to the Warriors this year after sitting out the past two seasons with knee and Achilles tendon injuries. Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

Golden State will be led by the same core trio that has led them to five finals and three titles since 2015: Forward Draymond Green and guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, reunited this year after Thompson missed two full seasons with injuries.

Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors dunks the ball against Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks during the Western Conference Finals.
Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors dunks the ball against Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks during the Western Conference Finals. Ron Jenkins | Getty Images

Forward Andrew Wiggins, a former top pick who hadn’t lived up to the hype in his eight-year career, has provided lockdown perimeter defense and an extra offensive threat in the playoffs.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown celebrate during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown celebrate during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Maddie Meyer | Getty Images

The Boston Celtics finally broke through in their fourth trip to the Conference finals since 2016. They’re led on offense by guard Jayson Tatum and forward Jaylen Brown.

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics defends against Max Strus of the Miami Heat during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics defends against Max Strus of the Miami Heat during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Kathryn Riley | Getty Images

Marcus Smart, who this season became the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996, will be tasked trying to contain Curry’s near-infinite shooting range. A rejuvenated-looking Al Horford, who’ll be nearly two years older than any other starter in the series, has been a key to the Celtics big defensive frontline.

Game one will tip off in San Francisco tonight at 9 p.m. ET, airing on ABC.

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