Stephen A. Smith Says Celtics Are Warriors Toughest NBA Finals Test Yet

'I think this is the toughest'


June 2, 2022

As the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors prepare to do battle in the NBA Finals, many have took time to reflect on the near decade-long run that these Warriors are on in terms of making it to basketball’s grandest stage.

Golden State has been the Western Conference’s representative in the finals in six of the last eight seasons, winning three titles in a four year stretch between 2015-2018. Their continued dominance has long been a point of discussion on sports talk shows, but it was their opposition who got the spotlight Thursday.

On ESPN’s “First Take,” former NBA player J.J. Redick claimed that the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers — who took down the Warriors in seven games — were the blueprint in how to stop Stephen Curry, thus making them he and Golden State’s most difficult challenger in the finals. Stephen A. Smith disagreed.

“I think this is the toughest,” Smith told Redick. “… that Cleveland Cavaliers team, as lethal as they were and ended up being, were not these Boston Celtics defensively.

“At the end of the day, when you look at Boston — you saw that there elements within the Cleveland Cavaliers defense, let’s say a Kyrie Irving for example, or Kevin Love to a lesser degree, that you could exploit at least a little bit. In the case of the Boston Celtics, who can you exploit defensively?

“Your reigning Defensive Player of the Year is Marcus Smart. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have size and athletic ability, agility, etcetera, etcetera. We know what Al Horford and Robert Williams III bring to the equation ? then I look at Grant Williams and Derrick White coming off the bench, and what they bring to the table ? If I had to give a defensive rating to that (Cleveland) team, and this Boston Celtics team, I would go with this Boston Celtics team.”

Smith looks to be right on paper, as the 2022 Boston Celtics entered the postseason with the NBA’s best defensive rating, while the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers were ranked 10th prior to their playoff run. But, that 2016 Cavaliers squad actually had a better defensive rating (103.9) than the 2022 Celtics (106.2).

Now, this Warriors team is far less dynamic on offense as their offensive rating (112.1) is worse than the 113.5 rating they boasted six seasons ago.

When factoring in how the game itself has changed, there can be an argument made on either side as to who has the advantage. We will get our first glimpse at that answer Thursday night when Boston takes on Golden State in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, with tipoff scheduled for 9 p.m. ET from Chase Center in San Francisco.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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