It could be Stephen Curry’s fourth N.B.A. championship, or Jayson Tatum’s first. It could be a comeback story for the ages for Klay Thompson, or a fairy-tale ending to the debut of the first-time head coach Ime Udoka.
Much is at stake within the 2022 N.B.A. finals for Golden State and the Boston Celtics, two teams with something to prove. For Golden State, it’s a likelihood to defy the percentages against reviving a dynasty after two seasons away from the highlight. For Boston and its lineup of rising stars, that is, as they are saying, when legends are made.
Here’s a take a look at what to anticipate within the N.B.A. finals, which begin Thursday in San Francisco.
Third-seeded Golden State has home-court advantage over second-seeded Boston due to its higher regular-season record.
Experience will not be every part.
After the Boston Celtics won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, their words about facing Golden State within the N.B.A. finals conveyed a mix of confidence and deference.
“We all know we’re going up against a terrific team with the Warriors. Great players, great organization,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “They’ve the track record to prove it. They know exactly what it takes. They’ve been here. They’re vets. We all know we’ve got an extended road in front of us, but we’re up for the challenge.”
These finals are marked by a niche in experience, with one team well seasoned in championship basketball and one other full of newcomers to this stage. Golden State has five players who’ve made multiple finals appearances — Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala. The Celtics don’t have any players who’ve made it this far before now.
A part of that could be a function of age. Boston’s roster is full of players of their 20s, while Golden State is a bunch of 30-somethings whose lives have modified since their first finals appearances.
“Just with the ability to balance even just, like, family life,” Curry said after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. “I’m blessed to have kids which can be now 9, 6 and three. Like, once I was back in ’14, ’15, chasing those playoffs, just a distinct vibe by way of every part that’s occurring in life.”
Smart was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, the primary time Curry, Green and Thompson won an N.B.A. championship. Jayson Tatum, who was named the Eastern Conference finals most dear player this 12 months, was in eleventh grade. Their teammate Jaylen Brown had just finished highschool and was headed to play college basketball on the University of California, Berkeley — just 11 miles from where Golden State played on the time.
By the 2015 championship, excluding Looney, whom the Warriors drafted a couple of weeks after winning the title, Golden State’s return finals participants had all been through years of seasoning and early playoff exits.
The 2021-22 Celtics have similarly spent the past few years learning how one can win within the playoffs, and coping with the bitterness of losing. Boston has been to the playoffs every 12 months since 2015 and made it to the conference finals 4 times.
But Golden State’s journey shows that finals experience isn’t every part.
When the Warriors won the 2015 championship, they faced a Cleveland Cavaliers team led by LeBron James. James was making his fifth consecutive finals appearance and sixth overall. But he couldn’t stop Golden State from winning the series in six games.
But James was also relatively recent to that team. The depth of Golden State’s experience will help carry the team this month.
Prediction: Golden State in six.
Draymond Green is Golden State’s ‘emotional leader.’
Stephen Curry has famously drained more 3-pointers than anyone in history. Klay Thompson remains to be basking in his triumphant return from two cataclysmic injuries. And Jordan Poole, out of the morass of Golden State’s two seasons on dynastic hiatus, has emerged as one of the vital dynamic young scorers within the league.
Because the Warriors return to the N.B.A. finals, several players have fueled their run. But is it possible amid all of the team’s pyrotechnics that Draymond Green — the team’s highly opinionated, referee-tormenting spokesman — is someway being missed? OK, perhaps not. But in his tenth season, Green is making his sixth trip to the finals, and it isn’t any coincidence. He’s the defense-minded, pass-first force who binds his teammates in additional ways than one.
“Our emotional leader,” Coach Steve Kerr said.
And Green has seldom, if ever, played higher basketball than he has this postseason. In Golden State’s closeout win over the Dallas Mavericks within the Western Conference finals, he collected 17 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while shooting 6 of seven from the sector. He quarterbacked the offense. He was a menace on defense. He used up five of his six personal fouls.
He also avoided partaking in most of the extracurriculars that had hampered him previously — no less than until after the sport, when he spoke about facing the Celtics with a championship at stake. The issue was that the Celtics were still playing the Miami Heat within the Eastern Conference finals. In truth, the Heat would force a Game 7 before falling short. But in Green’s mind, he was never mistaken.
“I assumed they were the higher team, and clearly I wasn’t far off,” Green said this week on San Francisco’s KGMZ-FM, Golden State’s radio broadcast partner.
In his own way, Green was a source of stability for the organization because the team labored with injuries in recent seasons. He mentored his younger teammates. He was in uniform when Curry and Thompson were absent. He acknowledged that it wasn’t at all times easy: He was accustomed to competing for championships, and suddenly Golden State had the worst record within the league.
Now, back alongside Curry and Thompson, Green has one other title in sight.
“I can’t say that I assumed coming into this season, like, ‘Yo, we’re going to win a championship,’ or, ‘We’re going to be within the N.B.A. finals,’ ” Green said. “But I at all times believed with us three that now we have a likelihood.”
Prediction: More rested and more experienced, Golden State wins the series in six games.
They’re each great on defense, but different on offense.
The connections between Celtics Coach Ime Udoka and Golden State Coach Steve Kerr — each former N.B.A. role players — are quite a few. Each led their teams to the finals of their first seasons as a head coach, Kerr in 2014-15, when Golden State won the championship, and Udoka this 12 months.
Also they are connected to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Udoka was an assistant on the Spurs from 2012 to 2019, which resulted in a championship in 2014. Udoka also played three seasons for the Spurs, while Kerr played 4 seasons in San Antonio and won two championships. Each also worked with Popovich on the U.S. men’s national basketball team.
Popovich’s influence is evident. Udoka and Kerr have preached the worth of a staunch defense. Boston and Golden State were the two best defensive teams within the N.B.A. in the course of the regular season. And like Popovich, the coaches are willing to bluntly criticize players publicly.
Where they diverge is offensively.
Udoka has installed a methodical, slower offense. The Celtics continuously run isolations, rating near the highest of the N.B.A. in the course of the regular season, while Golden State was near the underside.
Partly, that comes all the way down to personnel: Boston’s two best players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are adept at attending to the rim and breaking defenses down one-on-one but less so at passing. As well as, the Celtics start Marcus Smart at point guard, and he isn’t a standard pass-first guard.
Kerr, meanwhile, has long preached an egalitarian offense hinging on ball movement — a lot in order that Kevin Durant, after leaving Golden State for the Nets in 2019, complained that Kerr’s offense had been limiting. This season, Golden State led the N.B.A. in scoring off cuts to the basket, while the Celtics were just around league average. Golden State also was second within the league in total passes.
There’s one other difference, too. Kerr is more willing to experiment with lineups. He has given significant minutes to rookies equivalent to Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, shuffling them out and in of the rotation. Within the playoffs, Kerr gave the 19-year-old Kuminga three starts within the semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Moody, 20, was within the rotation against the Dallas Mavericks within the conference finals.
Udoka has preferred to maintain his rotations fairly predictable, particularly within the playoffs, rarely reaching down the Celtics’ bench even within the case of foul trouble.
Prediction: Celtics in six. Their defense is well designed to chase Stephen Curry around.