With the Boston Celtics' Game 7 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday, the 2022 NBA Finals matchup is set. The Celtics, the East's No. 2 seed, with face the Golden State Warriors, the West's No. 3 seed.
Game 1 is set for Thursday in San Francisco. The Warriors are favored (-155 to Boston's +135, per Caesars Sportsbook), but I'm taking the Celtics in seven. I think they match up very well with Golden State. Here are three areas the Celtics can work to their advantage to come out with the 2022 NBA championship.
1. Celtics switching vs. Warriors movement
Not only is this Celtics defense arguably one of the best in modern history, it is perfectly suited to combat all Golden State's off-ball movement. Boston switches everything, which makes life for Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole difficult as they look to come clean off screens and misdirections. This has been reflected in the numbers.
There’s just not a team more defensively equipped to guard Golden State than Boston. Nothing definitive. But 2018, 2019, 2022 (so excluding the two-year rebuild stretch), Boston held Golden State to a 0.853 points per possession mark switching.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 30, 2022
The Warriors aren't a big matchup-hunting team, which is good, because there's really no weak link to hunt on Boston's defense (you could argue, maybe, Grant Williams in space). It's going to be tough sledding for the Warriors to create consistent quality looks in the half-court. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, all these guys can reasonably bother Curry in one-on-one situations, and Al Horford is fine defending on the perimeter, so it doesn't really matter what matchup Curry or Poole end up with in late-clock situations.
Golden State will want to operate early in the shot clock, but with how well Boston recovers to shooters a lot of possessions could drag out longer than the Warriors would like -- at which point, advantage Boston.
And this is to say nothing of Golden State's propensity to turn the ball over. Boston is going to put a lot of pressure on the ball. They are going to chase and double and recover and switch. They are going to grab and hold the way Miami grabbed and held them. Will the Warriors be able to find enough space over the course of the series to really get their shots going? In spurts, of course. But over the long haul, I think Boston's defense gives Golden State a lot of problems.
2. Open season on Steph
Whereas the Celtics don't offer a weak defensive link for the Warriors to target (depending on how much time Payton Pritchard sees in this series), Boston is going to go right at Curry, and likely Poole, too.
Boston spent a fair amount of time hunting preferred matchups against Miami, and the team found success. Golden State handled it well when Luka Doncic frequently targeted Curry last round with pick and rolls; they didn't want to switch Curry onto Doncic just as they won't want to leave him to defend Tatum or Brown in the Finals, so they had Curry show/hedge on Doncic just long enough to halt his momentum so the original defender could recover as Curry raced back to his assignment.
There's vulnerability in these split seconds of recovery. All this hedging and and wing reinforcements sinking into driving lanes will open up shooters and secondary playmakers for Boston, which is just better equipped to punish Golden State in this regard than Dallas was. Jalen Brunson is not Brown, even when you factor in Brown's inability to coherently dribble at times. Smart, White, all these guys are going to make plays off the dribble if they're consistently catching with leverage in their favor. Boston gets into the paint with great success when it is determined to do so.
If Tatum, who was awesome creating shots for teammates down the stretch in Game 7, and Brown are able to use the attention they draw to set up teammates for clean looks, the Warriors, who don't like to double team, are going to have a dilemma on their hands asking Curry and/or Poole to guard straight up, whereas Boston has far fewer defensive pressure points (I would argue it doesn't have any) for Golden State to press on.
3. Size matters
The Warriors have, statistically, been a better rebounding team than the Celtics in the postseason, but look at the matchups. Golden State played a small Dallas team and a Memphis team that was without Steven Adams for half the series (when Adams did play, he hurt them on the glass during his minutes with 12 offensive rebounds over Games 4 and 5 ). Boston has had to deal with the Bucks and Heat, who crash a lot harder than their small lineups suggest.
In this matchup, the Celtics -- with Horford and depending on the health of Robert Williams -- can play bigger than Golden State, which has gotten great play out of Kevon Looney (who completely flipped the script on Adams in the Game 6 clincher with 22 boards including 11 offensive to just one for Adams) but will obviously go small with Draymond Green at the five quite often.
Nobody on the Celtics hunts offensive rebounds like Adams, but still, if Looney has to play big minutes to keep Boston in check on the glass, that dampens Golden State's offensive firepower, and really, how many minutes can Looney log battling Horford and the two Williams' over a seven-game series? Also, Horford will largely stretch Looney out of the paint in single-big lineups.
Draymond Green is going to battle, obviously, and Andrew Wiggins is a solid positional rebounder (as is Curry), and the Warriors are more than capable of holding their own or even winning the rebounding battle in this matchup (offensive rebounding has never been harder to forecast with all the long rebounds off 3-point shots).
But Boston, on paper, does have a chance to assert some physical dominance on the boards (while understanding it will be trying to balance getting back in transition to locate Golden State's shooters). And if it does, creating consistent second-chance opportunities, combined with the two-way perimeter size Boston boasts, adds up over a series in a big way.