Two of the most storied franchises in NBA history are going head-to-head in pursuit of the league’s ultimate prize.
On one end is the Boston Celtics, centered around a trio of young stars looking to lead their team to a record-breaking 18th championship.
On the other is a Golden State Warriors team that has made postseason appearances a near-annual tradition over the past decade. Their exuberant playing style has won them fans around the world as they’ve gone from plucky upstarts to the game’s elder statesmen.
In the weeks leading up to this moment, we’ve put together a bandwagon jumper’s starter pack for readers who aren’t up on sportsball and brought you the perspective of a lifelong San Franciscan, who shared her thoughts on the team’s recent move from Oracle Arena in Oakland to Chase Center in Mission Bay.
Now it’s time to drill down and nerd out. Here’s what hoop heads will be looking for in the series ahead.
Andrew Wiggins (#22) vs. Jayson Tatum (#0)
Andrew Wiggins has emerged as the Warriors’ defensive ace in the hole during these playoffs taking on the monumental test of guarding Luka Doncic during the team’s Western Conference Finals series. This time he’ll be going head to head with another one of the league’s most dynamic scorers. Some nights, Jayson Tatum looks like a bona fide superstar out on the court, but he’s also had a problem with turnovers and no-showed in key moments. Regardless of which Tatum we see, it will be up to Wiggins length, athleticism and grit to contain him. While generally not one of the team’s primary scorers, Wiggins 3-point shooting has been critical to the team’s ability to overwhelm opponents offensively.
Klay Thompson (#11) vs. Jaylen Brown (#7)
After two full seasons on the sidelines rehabbing from injuries, Klay Thompson appears to be hitting his stride just as the Warriors are facing their toughest challenge yet. Thompson’s status as an elite defender has taken a hit from his lower leg injuries and the Celtics could use that fact to exploit and target him with their second-best offensive player. However, if Thompson has the ability to get in rhythm, he’s as deadly of a perimeter shooter as ever. Games and series have a tendency to swing on these secondary matchups, so this may be a critical head to head to keep an eye on.
Steph Curry (#30) vs. Marcus Smart (#36)
Marcus Smart, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has dealt with nagging injuries throughout the playoffs, but has always posed a challenge to one of the league’s most dazzling offensive talents. The Celtics are sure to throw in traps, double teams and other defensive wrinkles, such as a box-and-one, but it’s nothing that Steph Curry hasn’t seen before and managed to overcome. It’s impossible for any player to truly stop Curry. The question is whether Smart has the legs to slow him down.
Draymond Green (#23) vs. Al Horford (#42)
Al Horford spent the second half of last season sitting at home while on the Oklahoma City Thunder and has spent much of these playoffs reminding fans that he’s not washed yet. Horford’s help defense, rebounding and timely ability to hit shots has elevated the Celtics, but he faces a major challenge with Draymond Green as one of the most tenacious defenders and personalities in the game. If Green finds his shot from the outside, the Warriors are nearly unbeatable, although it will be up to him to stay out of foul trouble—and keep his cool—as the key cog in the Warriors' defense.
Kevon Looney (#5) vs. Robert Williams III (#44)
The centerpiece of the Celtics interior presence during the playoffs, Robert Williams has been dealing with knee issues over the past few weeks and is currently listed as questionable for Game 1. Kevon Looney has been a consistent member of the Warriors championship roster who feasted against an undersized Mavericks team. If Looney is able to dominate inside with offensive rebounds and second-chance points, the Celtics may struggle to enact their game plan effectively.
Warriors Offense vs. Celtics Defense
It’s a bit of a cliché that defense wins championships, particularly as the NBA has evolved into an offense-dominated league. But the idea will really be put to the test in this series. The Warriors have the highest offensive rating of all the teams to make this year’s playoffs, while Boston is considered to have the best defense in the NBA. It’s important to note that the Warriors also boast an impressive defensive rating and that Boston’s stars have been known to sink some incredible shots. The teams split their regular-season series 1-1, but the Celtics have played the team well over the Warriors' dynastic run. In fact, the Celts are one of the only NBA teams with a winning record against the Warriors since their 2015 Championship run. Like the Warriors championship teams of yore, look for Steph and the crew to try and run circles around Boston in transition, while Boston will hope its defensive stoppers, whole have the ability to switch off and guard multiple positions, can slow the game down and keep the Warriors off the glass.
Let’s just take the coaching matchup as an example. Steve Kerr as a player has won five championships across stints with the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, and three more rings as the Warriors' head coach. Ime Udoka, on the other hand, is a rookie head coach who has only been on the bench for 18 total playoff games. Then there’s the teams themselves. Golden State has five players who have won multiple championships—Curry, Green, Thompson, Looney and Andre Iguodala. None of the Celtics have even made the Finals. In fact, Horford previously had the most playoff appearances without ever making the Finals.
The Warriors’ baby-faced assassin has one glaring gap in his Hall of Fame resume: an NBA Finals MVP. He’s currently the odds on favorite to win the award from a bookmaker’s perspective, and an MVP trophy would add legacy points in the debate over who is the best point guard in league history.
Advantage: Warriors. Excluding the aberrant 2020 bubble playoffs in Florida, teams with home-court advantage in the Finals have won the Championship 71% of the time. This year’s playoffs have underscored the advantage of playing at home—particularly for the Warriors. The team is a perfect 9-0 at home during the playoffs, which bodes well for their chances against the Celtics, who have been a surprisingly bad home team with a 5-4 record at TD Garden.
Where to Watch the Game
If it’s camaraderie you seek, head to Thrive City, the esplanade outside the Chase Center, to watch the game on a 3,108-square-foot screen. You could also head to a local bar, pub or community space. We put together a list of places to watch the games over drinks and food.
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]