The Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics and Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors will take center stage in the NBA Finals.
The best-of-seven series will tip off Thursday with Game 1 set for 9 p.m. ET at Chase Center in San Francisco. Golden State holds home-court advantage after finishing the regular season with a better record.
Here are five reasons why the Celtics are capable of winning the organization’s 18th NBA championship:
Elite, switch-heavy defense
Boston, the team with the best defensive rating in the NBA after the regular season, will present a challenge that Golden State hasn’t had to deal with throughout much of its postseason run. Sure, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors’ opponent in the Western Conference semifinals, were are a sound defensive team, but the Celtics have defended at a different level than anyone since the calendar turned to 2022. And they’ve been able to do so because of their versatility and switch-heavy scheme. It could make it tough on those like Warriors superstar Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to find separation, ultimately combatting Golden State’s off-ball movement. Based on how the Celtics handle the Warriors’ screen game, which is designed to get shooters open, Boston should make it tough on Golden State to get easy looks. No other team switched more frequently than the Celtics during the regular season, and they rank second in frequency (44%) during the playoffs, as shared in a story on ESPN.com.
Boston’s size, physicality
The Celtics have the opportunity to assert some physical dominance against Golden State. Boston has size, with 6-foot-9 Al Horford and 6-foot-8 high jumper Robert Williams III. Grant Williams also offers strength and physicality, displayed when he guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo during Boston’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, as long as officials aren’t overly quick with the whistle, could muck it up against Curry while limiting the sharpshooter. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two of the better two-way players in the league, do more than hold their own on that side of the floor, too. They’ll be tasked to do the same against matchups that likely will include Andrew Wiggins and Thompson. It’ll be crucial for the Celtics to use that size and limit Golden State on the offensive glass, which proved a tough task at times during their conference title run.
Golden State’s turnover troubles
Disclaimer: This is a massive issue for the Celtics, too. And it’s why this series could come down to who turns the ball over less. Both the Celtics and Warriors are turnover prone, as Golden State has been throughout much of its historical run with six NBA Finals in eight years. The Warriors turn the ball over given their fast-paced style of play, with ball movement and moving off the ball serving as contributing factors. Golden State is averaging 14.8 turnovers, which has resulted in opponents scoring 16 points per game, in the playoffs. And much like the Celtics, their wins and losses depend on how they take care of the ball. In Golden State’s four postseason losses, it averaged 16.3 turnovers for 20.8 points. In wins, the Warriors cut that number to 14.2 turnovers for 14.3 points, as shared by ESPN. Should the Celtics force the Warriors to turn the ball over, it will help Boston get easier buckets in transition while making Golden State’s defense more frantic in the half court.
The Ime Udoka effect
” … We know (the Warriors are) a high-level team, executing team that has a ton of great shooters, great players overall, guys I know well,” first-year head coach Ime Udoka said after Boston eliminated Miami.
Udoka’s familiarity with Curry, specifically, should provide some confidence for Green Teamers — he’s both played and coached against the veteran guard. Udoka proved during Boston’s first-round series his knowledge of the Nets, and specifically Kevin Durant, making the NBA superstar look pedestrian during much of the four-game sweep. Golden State head coach Steve Kerr certainly has done a good job of getting his stars to buy in over the years, but Boston’s rookie coach has provided an advantage in every series thus far.
As been the case throughout much of their remarkable in-season turnaround, along with their postseason run, the Celtics have become the most resilient team in the league. Their postseason run could have been over after losing Game 5 at home against the Bucks, and a Game 6 loss to Miami at TD Garden could have proven fatal, too. But those times, and so many more, Boston fought back from adverse situations and showed the mindset of the group when their backs are against the wall. That will go a long way given that Golden State holds home-court advantage.