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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Boston Versus Golden State Preview

NBA Finals

Boston (51-31) vs. Golden State (53-29) 

Season series: Tied, 1-1

Golden State can win if…the "Splash Brothers" trio--Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole--not only maintain their long distance sharpshooting but they continue to attack closeouts with aggressive drives to the hoop. The Warriors also must move actively off of the ball, and they must defend Boston's big wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown without committing so much help defense that the paint becomes open for drives, post ups and offensive rebounds.

Curry is leading Golden State in 2022 playoff scoring (25.9 ppg) and playoff assists (6.2 apg). His shooting splits (.449/.380/.822) are below his career norms across the board, but not by much (other than free throw shooting). Curry averaged 23.8 ppg, 7.4 apg, and 6.8 apg with shooting splits of .444/.439/.840 in the Warriors' Western Conference Finals win against the Dallas Mavericks en route to receiving the inaugural Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP.

Thompson's 2022 playoff averages (19.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, shooting splits of .457/.399/.800) almost mirror his career playoff averages of 19.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 apg with shooting splits of .444/.412/.838. The eye test says that he is not quite at the level he reached before suffering devastating knee and Achilles injuries, but the numbers say that he is still a very effective player. To the extent that he has lost a step, this is more evident on defense, which is why Andrew Wiggins now draws the toughest defensive assignment on the wings.

During the 2022 playoffs, Poole has been the most efficient of Golden State's three main sharpshooters, with shooting splits of .531/.393/.917. He is averaging 18.4 ppg and 4.5 apg.

In 2022, Andrew Wiggins made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. He is averaging 15.8 ppg in the playoffs, but his primary value (at least in the postseason) has been on defense.

Draymond Green is the quintessential example of a player who is very important for a good team but would be much less important for a weak team. As Charles Barkley jokingly notes, Green is averaging a "triple single" (8.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.3 apg) in the 2022 playoffs. The valuable things that Green does best are not easily measured: setting screens, making good reads (assist only partially track this), orchestrating the defense, guarding the opposing team's best big man, and being a willing and skilled help defender. If he did all of those things for a bad team, that team would still lose, but when he does all of those things for a stacked team that stacked team becomes very dangerous.

Kevon Looney's playoff numbers are not sensational (6.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), but he is the only player in the Warriors' rotation who is big for his position. Size bothers the Warriors, but they get by with Looney taking care of one big man and Green's active defense filling in the gaps while Wiggins and Thompson do most of the perimeter work.

Boston will win because…size bothers the Warriors, and the Celtics have effective size at each position: big men Al Horford and Robert Williams will punish the Warriors in the paint, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are big wing players, and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart plays bigger than his height/weight might suggest. 

The Celtics have been a legit contender for several years--reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, 2018, and 2020--but because they had not reached the NBA Finals since 2010 they have flown under the radar to some extent. After their slow start this season, they were not only under the radar but they were sinking beneath the sonar as well. 

Tatum is averaging 27.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.9 apg, and 1.2 spg with shooting splits of .446/.375/.833 in 18 playoff games. He won the inaugural Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP after averaging 25.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.6 apg, and 1.1 spg with shooting splits of .462./.353/.860 in a seven game series win versus the number one seeded Miami Heat. 

Brown averaged 24.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg versus the Heat, and during the playoffs overall he is averaging 22.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg. He is not as spectacular as Tatum, but he is perhaps the more consistent player.

Horford led the Celtics in rebounding versus the Heat (10.0 rpg), and he just missed averaging a double double during that series, scoring 9.8 ppg. He is averaging 11.9 ppg and a team-high 9.6 rpg during the playoffs.

Smart struggled with his shot versus the Heat (.360 FG%), but he contributed 16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and a team-high 6.2 apg. Overall, his playoff averages are 15.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and a team-high 6.2 apg. Smart can defend point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards.

The Boston Celtics started slowly this season, but reemerged as an elite team after becoming the league's best defensive team while also playing more unselfishly on offense, as Tatum and Brown worked better together while Smart assumed increased playmaking duties.

Other things to consider: Media members have their narratives ready: the Golden State Warriors are a great dynasty, Stephen Curry is a top 10 all-time player, and Kevin Durant was not the best player on the Warriors' back to back 2017-18 championship teams. 

The Warriors have reached the NBA Finals six times in the past eight seasons, which by historical standards is unquestionably a dynasty: only Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, the Jerry West-Elgin Baylor L.A. Lakers, the Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar L.A. Lakers, and the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls made it to the NBA Finals at least six times in an eight year span. It should be emphasized that Russell's Celtics are in a category by themselves, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons. One difference between the Warriors and most of those other dynasties is that the other dynasties had the same top two players throughout their runs, with the exception of the West-Baylor Lakers adding Wilt Chamberlain after already losing five times in the NBA Finals. The Warriors won one title with Curry and Thompson leading the way, then they won two titles with Durant as clearly the best player, and now they have reached the NBA Finals for the first time since Durant departed.

Four Warriors are averaging double figures in scoring in the playoffs, but that number increased to six versus Dallas in the Western Conference Finals as Green and Looney joined Curry, Thompson, Poole, and Wiggins. The Warriors have a tremendous ensemble cast, superior to other teams that won the NBA Finals with ensemble casts (most notably Seattle in 1979 and Detroit in 2004). Curry is better than Dennis Johnson and Chauncey Billups (the Finals MVPs in 1979 and 2004 respectively), but he is not at the same level as Russell, West, Baylor, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Pippen, or Durant. Curry is the best player on a team that relies on strength in numbers, and on a very underrated defense that is--to put it mildly--not built around Curry.

However, I would be surprised if six Warriors averaged double figures against Boston's defense. The Celtics are not going to shut down the Warriors, but they are going to hold the Warriors to somewhere between 105-110 ppg instead of the 114.5 ppg that the Warriors have averaged so far in the 2022 playoffs.

Nothing that happens in the 2022 Finals changes or invalidates what Durant accomplished in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. If Curry has an epic performance in the 2022 NBA Finals--30-plus ppg with efficient shooting numbers--that adds to his already impressive resume but it does not retroactively make him the Warriors' best player in 2017 and 2018, nor does it make him a better player than Durant.

The reality is that Curry's previous track record and Boston's current defense make it very unlikely that Curry will average 30 ppg in the Finals, let alone post efficient shooting numbers. If the Warriors win, they will win because their collective firepower overwhelms Boston's collective firepower.

The Warriors, by virtue of being completely healthy, are the best team that the Celtics have faced in the 2022 playoffs, but the Celtics are also by far the best team that the Warriors have faced in the 2022 playoffs. In their first three playoff series, the Warriors have yet to battle a team that can not only match up with them on the perimeter, but can also attack them in the paint.

I predict that the Celtics will win in six games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:41 AM



At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 11:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like you have been underestimating the Warriors all playoffs haha. The way I see it the Warriors beat a team a lot like Boston in Memphis but Boston has not played a team like the Warriors yet. The Nets have a lot of offensive firepower but little defense. The Bucks without Middleton are a stagnant offense and the Heat with all their injuries are a one man show.

The Warriors are the first team Boston has had to play that is elite on both sides of the ball and I do not think they will be able to score enough or protect the ball well enough to survive. They need either Smart or Horford to materialize as a third scorer and I just don't think either will do it consistently enough to make the difference. Perhaps if Boston can win the rebounding battle decisively that will matter less but so far the Warriors have been committed to outrebounding their opponents and I don't think Boston will have more luck there than Memphis who is a better rebounding team did.

I also think Golden State has a much deeper bench and fresher legs which matters this deep into the playoffs. Boston really only wants to go 7 deep but the Warriors have like 10 guys they like to play if Porter/Payton/Iggy are all back. If Payton is right especially he may be able to almost entirely neutralize Jaylen Brown and his limited dribbling ability when he's on him.

Wiggins will make Tatum work but he won't stop him. But holding him to 25 or so a game on limited efficiency is probably more than enough.

Smart vs. Curry is obviously a huge matchup. I am not as big on Smart as most and I think his effectiveness on defense depends on the referees game to game. The NBA probably wants their golden boy to look good on the biggest stage so if the referee selections reflect that then Smart's cheaper tactics might be off-limits here. If he's allowed to cheap-shot and bully Curry all series he may be able to slow him down but even against Kawhi and a Toronto scheme gimmicked to stop him and only him Curry was still capable of exploding so it's probably safe to pencil him in for at least 2-3 big nights no matter what.

I think the Warriors will win in 5 games. 6 if the Celtics either get real hot from three in a game or get a super friendly whistle in one.

All of this is probably irrelevant though and the series will likely be determined by injuries. The Warriors are undefeated in playoff series where Curry, Thompson, and Green start every game, but they are pretty mortal when one of them is missing. On the other side Boston has several banged up players and no really good options to replace them if they deteriorate to the point of being unplayable. This is not a series where Daniel Theiss or Payton Prichard can really survive defensively I don't think.

At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Green is a borderline-AS caliber player. Nobody at that level is going to transform a bad or somewhat-bad team into even a playoff team, though he'd still help a bad team improve somewhat. For that matter, I don't think even the best player in the league can go onto a bottom 2-3 team and make them a playoff team either. But, Green is a glue guy and a great fit for GS.

You think Looney being 6-9, 222lb is big for a center? Even for today, I consider that basically average PF size. But, other than that, you're mostly right that GS doesn't have many guys big for their position, but a lot of their guys are average for their positions though. I'd say Thompson is big for SG at 6-6. Porter is big at 6-8 for a SF. Wiggins is at least average for a SF. Poole/Curry are at least very near average for their respective positions, too. The problem for GS is they like to utilize small ball. If Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, Looney are in for a normal lineup and their often-used starting lineup, that's pretty good. Green is short for a PF, but strong and physical. Bjelica is good size for a PF, and actually listed bigger than Looney at 6-9, 234.

Though you keep underrating GS, this series is tougher to predict than the previous ones for GS. Definitely could go either way. Both these teams are hardly historically-great teams, but both seem very similarly matched. BOS has benefited from key injuries in every round so far.

At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what to make of this matchup. I think GS could make short work of Boston if Boston doesn't take care of the ball (they are often very sloppy with the ball) and/or struggles to shoot well. However, the size of Boston and Kerr's stubbornness make Boston a very viable pick.

At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 3:15:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Bold pick, there. David.
I, on the other hand, am surprised at the GSW being posted as slight favorites at -165. To your point, the Celtics do have the personnel to make Curry work, but the Warriors are the more talented team, and they have homecourt and they are rested, and have much more Finals experience.

IMO the Celtics will likely sell out to keep the ball out of Curry's hands. Which means someone else like Draymond has a better chance of being the Finals MVP.

The Celtics do not have a weak link on defense anywhere in their playoff rotation. The GSW will not be able to isolate someone like Jokic, Morant, Bertans, or Luka during crunch time. The only mismatch out there is Horford on Curry, but Draymond's defender will likely sink into the paint when that happens.

Wiggins and Draymond will have trouble handling Tatum and Brown. Plus you are right - the Celtics have the size advantage with Horford, Theis, and Williams (though Williams has a balky knee that will remain problematic).

Interestingly, if ultimately irrelevant - the Celtics have had a winning record versus the Warriors since 2015 or so. But more relevant is the fact that not having homecourt advantage hasn't really bothered the Celtics in the playoffs. They do seem to play better on the road.

But the Celtics are a little sketchy to me. After a very impressive sweep of the overrated Nets in the first round, they haven't really dominated since then - they needed 7 games to beat the Bucks without Middleton, and they allowed the Heat to take them to 7 despite being the more talented team. That tells me they are not consistent.

Bottom line: the Celtics' elite defense will give them a chance, and they match-up well with the GSW on that end. But their inconsistency will likely doom them.

BTW, this proves Ime Udoka is 10 times the coach the vastly overrated Brad Stevens ever was. And the disparity in the media coverage of both coaches is VERY telling.

At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 7:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Celtics went 7 with the Bucks largely because of the play of Giannis who is no doubt the best player in the world

Injuries get mentioned with how the Celtics beat the Heat which ignores that the Celtics did not have Horford or Smart for game 1, didn't have RWIII for game 3 (and at various points did not have other starters), or Marcus Smart for game 4. They were pretty easily the better team at full strength than the Heat. Lowry was out for games 1 and 2, Butler out for half of game 3, and Herro out for essentially 4 games but I don't believe that's as bad as far as who was screwed over more by injuries

Warriors have experience on their side but most of that experience is in the older core group that's especially susceptible of breaking down at this stage of their careers. The Celtics are extremely experienced for a team with no finals experience, at least 3 conference finals trip for their core group and 2 of those required a game 7. They beat 3 teams with finals experience en route to facing the Warriors

They should win from a matchup standpoint but health and experience definitely factor heavily into how well they could play

At Tuesday, May 31, 2022 9:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1st (Dallas) Anonymous here.

I don't agree with Anonymous5 that we can make a judgment on who's stronger at full strength between Boston and Miami. Lowry was a shell of himself due to the hamstring injury as was Herro. And Butler and Tucker were both playing hurt as well in the middle of the series.

I don't know which team is better at full strength but we didn't see either of them at it in that series so I don't agree that Boston was clearly stronger. At best you could say they were better equipped and disciplined to survive their injuries which is probably a more important thing anyway but we never saw the Heat anywhere near full strength in these playoffs and definitely not in that series IMO.

At hypothetical full strength I kind of think Miami might have maybe won it all honestly. Their ability to force turnovers kind of feels like Golden State's kryptonite and Bam is kind of the ideal defender against GSW's favorite stuff. Curry and Poole can probably eat Williams or Horford alive on switches but Bam is great at staying with guards.

I also don't think we'll see Boston at full strength in the Finals which is part of why I think Golden State might make shorter work of them than some expect.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 6:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I did not pick the Warriors to make it to the NBA Finals, so I supposed by definition I "underrated" them, though there are some contextual factors explaining why they did better than I expected.

Barring injuries or unexpected events, I will be very surprised if the Warriors win in five games.

For the reasons I stated in my article, I think that the matchups favor Boston, but I expect a competitive series.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 7:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Green is a "borderline-AS caliber player"--but he is depicted by many commentators as a future HoFer.

Looney is a true big man because of (1) the physical way that he plays in the paint, never drifting outside to shoot three pointers, and (2) his wingspan and body frame are those of a seven footer.

I agree that the teams are closely-matched, but I would say that Boston is better for the reasons that I stated in my article.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 7:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I will be very surprised if the Warriors "make short work" of the Celtics.

If anything, the Warriors are more turnover-prone than the Celtics, so I don't see that category providing an edge for the Warriors.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 7:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Both teams are a "little sketchy" relative to all-time great championship teams. They both earned their places in the NBA Finals, but neither team is going to be remembered among the all-time greats (though if the Warriors win their collective run will be remembered, obviously).

I don't think that the Celtics are more inconsistent than the Warriors, and I also think that over the course of a series the Celtics' size will wear down the Warriors, making them more mistake-prone. This could be a 2-2 series before the Celtics win the last two.

You make a good point that Udoka is not getting nearly enough credit for how well he coaches and how well the Celtics play. As we know, media members have their favorites, and coverage is often slanted because of this.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 7:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that the Boston-Milwaukee series going the distance reflects positively on Giannis more than it reflects negatively on the Celtics.

I also agree that with both squads at full strength the Celtics are superior to the Heat.

I hope that there are no additional injuries on either side, and that the series is decided by great play as opposed to injuries.

At Thursday, June 02, 2022 7:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

1st Anonymous:

You are right that commentary about who is better at full strength is speculative when neither team is at full strength, but I am reminded of Kevin McHale's comment about how he would have fared against Draymond Green: "That guy can't grow enough to guard me." The Heat would not be able to grow enough to deal with Boston's size, and the Warriors are going to have the same problem.

The Celtics would be in an even more advantageous position if Smart and Williams were fully healthy, but unless those guys get injured more severely than they are now I think that they can provide enough for the Celtics to win the series.


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