The biggest storylines easily present themselves entering the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.
Warriors sharpshooter Steph Curry leads the Western Conference champions into their sixth NBA Finals in the last eight seasons, perhaps proving the dynasty isn’t yet over. Meanwhile, the remarkable in-season turnaround from Jayson Tatum and company now has the Celtics four wins away from the organization’s first championship in more than a decade.
The stars and storylines are easy to spot, no doubt. But perhaps the biggest difference-maker in the best-of-seven series won’t be the easiest to predict. With that in mind, we asked our NESN.com Digital team who (or what) will be the X-factor when the Celtics and Warriors take the floor with the NBA championship on the line.
Here are our “expert” picks:
Ben Watanabe: Marcus Smart
True, he has the potential to derail Boston’s offense entirely. But he’ll be the first line of defense against anything Golden State might want to run, and holding the Warriors below 110 points is vital to rendering them beatable.
George Balekji: Smart
He’s at 65-70% health, his whole right side from quad to foot to ankle is banged up, and he’s the primary Curry defender. Celtics go as far as Tatum goes, but they win if Smart shows up on defense, and plays within himself on offense.
Scott Neville: Smart
Smart shutting down Curry gives the Celtics their best chance to win the series. If Smart can limit the Warriors star on his own, head coach Ime Udoka can choose to double Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole.
Sean McGuire: Turnover battle
Both the Celtics and Warriors are turnover prone, as Golden State has been throughout much of its historical run. The Warriors are averaging 14.8 turnovers per game, which has resulted in opponents scoring 16 points per game in the playoffs. Golden State averaged 16.3 turnovers for 20.8 points in its four postseason losses, per ESPN. The Celtics equally are as liable to make sloppy mistakes with the ball, as depicted in Game 3 against Miami with 24 turnovers leading to 33 points. The team that takes care of the ball will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Mike Cole: Andrew Wiggins
Credit to Golden State for a bold move to acquire Wiggins, and credit to him for embracing the role. Wiggins obviously has the talent and potential of a No. 1 pick, and he doesn’t have to be the man, which has allowed him to blossom.
Keagan Stiefel: Robert Williams III
Williams is averaging big-time career rebounding numbers against Golden State and with some time to rest, I think he can return to form in the NBA Finals. The one thing the Warriors lack is a rim protector and I expect Williams to take advantage of that, even if his trademark explosiveness is toned down. Double-doubles should come without a problem for Time Lord.
Adam London: Robert Williams III
Time Lord could have a significant impact on this series as long as his injury status doesn’t diminish. Williams’ defense is his calling card, but his presence in the paint on the offensive end could be difficult for Golden State to combat.
Greg Dudek: Robert Williams III
The Celtics have shown they can win without the Time Lord, but Williams brings them to another level that will be needed to beat the Warriors. How effective Williams can be is another story given his injured knee that is making him day-to-day throughout the NBA Finals.
Lauren Campbell: Al Horford
The C’s big man cares a lot about winning and will do what it takes to continue to be a difference-maker throughout the playoffs — especially with this being his first NBA Finals appearance in his 15-year career.
Ricky Doyle: Kevon Looney
The Celtics showed cracks on the boards against the Bucks and Heat, a flaw that could prove fatal against the Warriors. Looney is tied with Wiggins for the most offensive rebounds this postseason (42) despite playing 213 fewer minutes, and his overall energy and tenacity on the glass will lead to second-chance buckets for Golden State that Boston won’t overcome.
Meredith Gorman: Curry
Stephen Viesto: Draymond Green