Written by William Coolidge
For the NBA and basketball world, and similar to the phrase my friend wants to get tattooed on his chest, “This Is It”. Sticking to the NBA though…there are only two teams left standing in the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. Two teams that will battle eachother in a 7 game series, to which only one them will prevail and thus receive the elusive, Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Barring any potential injuries, this is set to be one of the most, if not the most, competitive and entertaining NBA Finals series in years. Both teams have their own strengths and weaknesses, and in terms of star-power, depth, and coaching–both teams are relatively equal. Before I dive into my analysis of the series and pick who I think will win, I must present the underlying structure which, besides the actual play, makes the NBA as entertaining as it is: the storyline.
Winning this Championship would be astronomically wonderful for the narrative of both teams. Well, winning a Championship is always great for a team’s narrative, however, it does more for this year’s teams than usual. Lets start with the Boston Celtics. Most of the basketball world did not see them making it this far, especially before mid-January. They started off the season mediocre and it wasn’t until late January, roughly the middle of the season, where they ramped up their play and strung together winning streak after winning streak. They rode this wave of winning to the end of the regular season, earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Going into the playoffs, I, along with a substantial amount of others involved with following the NBA, predicted the Celtics would lose in the first round to the Brooklyn Nets. Oh boy were we wrong–the Celtics crushed the Nets in a 4 game sweep. They proceeded to play the reigning NBA Champions in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the Bucks. Once again, I, along with a substantial amount of others involved with following the NBA, predicted the Bucks would win. And once again, the Celtics prevailed, albeit the series went a full, competitive 7 games. After this, when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals to play the Miami Heat, I knew better than to bet against them and this time picked the Celtics to win in 6…they won in 7 but hey, at least I picked the correct winner. Anyways, that is all apart of their narrative, a narrative that would only be fulfilled if they win it all. Piggybacking off of that, if the Celtics win the Championship, their run this playoffs would certainly be considered one of the most difficult paths of all time. I mean theres a reason they weren’t the overwhelming favorites, or favorites at all perhaps, in every one of their series this playoffs. The Celtics had to face Kevin Durant in the first round, who is arguably the best player in the world, and also Durant’s star-sidekick, Kyrie Irving. After they accomplished that terrific feat, they had to play Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Semi-Finals. There’s too much to say about Giannis’s greatness, with that, I’ll just keep it at if Durant isn’t the best player in the world, then it is probably Giannis who has that title. Once the Celtics narrowly finished business with Giannis and the Bucks, they had to face the best seeded team in the East, the Miami Heat led by Jimmy Butler. The Heat are probably the grittiest team and possess the most competitive personnel in the league. Butler, besides being a fantastic basketball talent, he is the living, human form of the mantra “Win by any means possible”. As already stated earlier, the Celtics prevailed against the Heat, to now face the Warriors in the Finals. If the Celtics defeat Stephen Curry and the Warriors, that only caps off an all-time difficult and taxing Championship run. Additionally, up until this run, there had been growing rumors and beliefs that the Celtics two franchise co-stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t, together, make the Celtics a legitimate contender. With those beliefs came whispers all around the basketball world of the Celtics trading one of them. Regardless of if the Celtics considered trading one of them, if they win the Championship this year, that narrative can be put to sleep because Brown and Tatum, together, would have delivered a Championship for the franchise. As of right now, the Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the most NBA Championships at an amount of 17. If the Celtics win the Finals this year, this would bring them back to their previous place as the sole team with the most NBA Championships. Further, for a fringe-superstar as Jayson Tatum is, earning an NBA Championship at the young age he is at (24) would already cement his legacy tremendously.
Now, as for the Warriors. Virtually everyone thought when Kevin Durant left them in 2019, after an NBA Finals series loss in which Klay Thompson tore his ACL, that the Warriors dynasty was over. By 2019, the Warriors had won 3 championships in a 5 year stretch, a terrific feat by any franchise. However, with the Warriors returning to the Finals this season after a 2 year playoff drought, and with their core of Curry, Thompson, and Green still in-tact, its possible that this Warriors dynasty isn’t finished, as many people believed it was after Durant left and Klay got injured. Needless to say, if the Warriors can win the Championship this season, it would be the cherry on top in terms of suprising everyone who thought their dynasty was over. Further, it would mean that the core of Curry, Green, Thompson, and Iguodala would have brought a jaw-dropping 4 Championships in an 8 year window for the franchise. Not many franchises can boast a dynasty and Championship run such as that. Needless to say, another Championship on Draymond and Curry’s resume would skyrocket their own, individual legacies as well. No one else’s legacy on the Warriors would be bolstered more than Klay Thompson’s though. After missing two whole seasons to rehab a torn ACL and a torn Achilles, two injuries which by themselves usually end careers, Klay Thompson returned to play mid-way through this season. And since coming back, miraculously, he has been performing almost as well, if not the same, as he did before the injuries. Not only that, but he has had some dazzling performances in this playoffs, at times being the sole, driving force in the team winning. So, for Klay Thompson to win another Championship this year while being a prominant contributor, after all he and the team have been through, it would be nothing short of astounding. Also, the fact that the Warriors have been able to compete this season while also developing their young talent such as Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and etc, it is hyper-unusual as teams are either in stages of developing their young players or competing for a Championship, rarely, if ever, both. If the Warriors win the crown-jewel of them all, an NBA Championship, while simultaneously developing young talent and winning as they have been, that would be unprecedented.
Analysis: Both the Warriors and the Celtics boast a top-ranked defense. Beyond ratings and statistics, they both have their own respective defensive anchors. For the Warriors, it is Draymond Green, who was running away with the Defenisve Player of the Year award this season, up until he got injured in January and was sidelined for a couple months. For the Celtics, it is Marcus Smart, who ended up winning Defensive Player of the Year this season, the first player at the guard position to do so since Gary Payton in the 1990’s. The Celtics play a gritttier brand of defense, in the sort that they will play 24 seconds straight of hard-nosed defense to force a turnover via a shotclock violation. While the Warriors on the other hand, they play a more disruptive brand of defense, switching from man to zone to a one-man full court pressure at various instances to confuse the offense, thereby forcing turnovers and bad shots. With that said, I’d give the Celtics an edge in terms of defensive grading. But, almost to make up for their slight interiority on the defensive end, I believe the Warriors offense is far more high-powered than the Celtics. The Celtics’ biggest offensive threats are Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, whereas the Warriors’ biggest offensive threats are Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins. Logistically, here the Warriors have the advantage as they can throw Klay and Wiggins on Brown and Tatum, whereas the Celtics don’t really have an answer for Curry, Poole, Thompson, and Wiggins collectively. When all four of those Warriors are on the floor, the Celtics can only throw Marcus Smart on one of those guys. As a whole, a point of concern for Warriors fans is that the Celtics are far more consistent than the Dubs. Despite their overall success this playoffs, there have games they simply haven’t come to play and have consequently been blown out. In order for them to win, that absolutely can’t happen for them this series where momentum is vital. Experience is everything when it comes to the playoffs, and for the most part, the Warriors take the cake here. Although Tatum, Brown, Horford, Smart, and other core guys on their team have been involved in a multitude of deep playoff runs, nothing compares to the Finals, and the Warriors have players such as Curry, Thompson, Green, Looney,and Iguodala who have all been to multiple NBA Finals (winning some and losing some).X-factors for the Warriors are Jordan Poole and Draymond Green. Jordan Poole plays an important role, he is tasked with being the spark plug off the bench, leading the second unit, and being an offensive threat to draw defense away from Curry and Thompson. Simply put, if Poole can contribute at least 17-20 points per game, the Warriors will likely win the series. Contrarily, if Poole goes cold for enough games in the series, this has the effect of the Celtics not caring so much about Poole as a threat on the offensive end, consequently driving lanes and shots for other Warriors players dry up. As for Draymond, he already has 2 flagrant foul points these playoffs and if he accrues 2 more than he will get suspended. He is too vital on both ends of the floor, creating shots for Curry and Poole, and especially on the defensive end anchoring it down, he must not get suspended or ejected from games this series. If he does, the Warriors suffer a major handicap. On the same note, Draymond must not rack up technical fouls or common fouls for the same reason. The biggest X-factor for the Celtics is Jaylen Brown. Ealier in this article, I discussed how winning a Championship would dispel the whisperings that he and Tatum need to be split-up. Brown has to prove these whisperings to be rubbish by coming out and performing like the viable co-star Jayson Tatum needs. If I were to put a numerical value on this, I would say he needs to average near or around 26 points per game with low turnovers and 5 or 6 assists per game. For the Warriors, their best bet is to try to force turnovers and control Tatum and Brown and force guys like Marcus Smart to hit their shots. Expect the Warriors to collapse and play help defense onto Brown and Tatum, especially on drives or when the Dubs are in their zone defense. For the Celtics, their best bet at winning is to attack the paint and get the Warriors into foul trouble early, preferrably key Warriors’ players such as Draymond, Wiggins, and Poole. Ultimately, the winner of the series is going to be determined by whoever can commit the least amount of turnovers. In a series with two powerhouse offenses as this series features, every possesion matters. If the Warriors can get Gary Payton II back from injury, as he is expected to return, that is a huge upside for their defense as he can guard Brown and be a disruptive force and knock down some corner three-pointers.
Conclusion: The Warriors will beat the Celtics in 6 games, a 4-2 series. The Celtics have had a long and tiring playoff run, coming off two series that went 7 games. I think the Warriors will wear them down by game 6 and win the NBA Championship.