We’re not far from the start of the 2022 NBA Finals, and it’s been quite a wild ride. In preparation for the showdown between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, our writer squad has gotten together for another roundtable to discuss some of the bigger storylines.
Check out our answers below!
1. What is the biggest storyline of the Finals?
FRANCIS: The Warriors’ return to the biggest stage for the first time since 2019. A lot has happened since they lost Game 6 of the 2019 Finals to the Raptors. They lost Klay Thompson for two-and-a-half seasons due to injuries and two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant to free agency. Steph Curry practically missed the entire 2019-20 season with a hand injury and the Warriors finished with a league-worst 15-50 record in that pandemic-interrupted season. The Warriors also moved from the iconic Oracle Arena in Oakland to the new Chase Center in San Francisco, which means this will be the first time the new arena will be hosting the NBA Finals.
CARLO: Whether the Warriors have got what it takes to win another title without Kevin Durant. With the Nets in the doldrums, it looks like Durant made the wrong choice to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, and so now Curry has the chance to also finally earn a Finals MVP of his own – pretty much the only award he hasn’t received in the past. The Curry/Thompson/Green triumvirate has gone 18-0 in all series where they’ve started every game together, and it would be a phenomenal achievement if they made that 19-0 while winning their fourth title in eight years.
GIO: While the Golden State Warriors’ title quest is a great story in itself, the Boston Celtics making the finals for the first time in more than a decade is a culmination of all the wheeling and dealing by former Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge. Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown are the cornerstones of his rebuild post Big 3. A title would certainly validate those moves and the seasons after them. And Celtics fans would love to have one more title (ouch) than the Los Angeles Lakers.
ALDO: How Tatum plays throughout this series will be crucial in directing the narrative about him moving forward, similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo in last year’s NBA Finals. Tatum has been Boston’s best player this season and is creeping into the “Top 10 Players in the NBA” conversation–if he isn’t already there yet. He has been unafraid of the big moment since his first Eastern Conference Finals appearance as a rookie in 2018 and he has a prime chance to make his mark and establish himself as a bona fide superstar on basketball’s biggest stage.
2. The Celtics will win if __________.
FRANCIS: They can play high-level defense for long stretches. Boston is an elite defensive team and they just limited a Heat team that was scoring at a pace of 114.4 points per 100 possessions in the first two rounds to 105.1 during the East Finals. But they haven’t faced a team that runs as many off-ball screens and misdirection plays as the Warriors, so they’ll be hard-pressed to keep the defensive intensity up for 48 minutes. The Celtics are very physical and switchable, and they don’t really have any weak defenders for the Warriors to exploit. Expect the Celtics to replicate some of the schemes deployed by the Grizzlies in the second round, particularly after Ja Morant went out—a series that saw Curry, Thompson, and Jordan Poole post their worst shooting percentages this postseason and the PTSD lineup limited to an anemic 89.7 offensive rating.
CARLO: If they can lock in on defense and punish the Warriors for turnovers while also protecting the paint. Golden State are prone to unnecessarily throwing the ball away, which is the main source of their struggles whenever they’ve lost in the playoffs so far. The Celtics have the reigning DPOY Smart on their roster, and they’ve got other long defenders along with an elite rim protector in Robert Williams III. Even with Tatum and Brown on the roster, Ime Udoka surely knows that trying to rely on winning a firefight against the Warriors doesn’t favor them in a seven-game series.
GIO: Play defense and impose their size on the Warriors. The Celtics have the personnel to defend the Warriors well and can counter their small-ball efforts with size. Al Horford has at times summoned what he got from the fountain of youth and he can tap on that again with the right matchup. Tatum can punish defenders on the post and when Brown is clicking on offense, it’s usually night night for the opponents.
ALDO: I think Boston playing suffocating defense is already a given at this point, considering what they’ve shown over the first three rounds of these playoffs. What will be more crucial is their ability to manufacture offense down the stretch, especially as the series goes on and Golden State makes their adjustments. The Celtics had difficulty scoring late in their Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat during the Eastern Conference Finals which forced Game 7. It almost bit them in the ass back in Game 7, too as they almost squandered a double digit lead late in the fourth quarter. They have to prioritize finding ways to free up Tatum and Brown so that they don’t have to rely on Smart isolations late in the fourth quarter.
3. The Warriors will win if __________.
FRANCIS: Andrew Wiggins continues his stellar two-way play. Against Dallas, the Warriors had a net rating of plus-13.9 with Wiggins on the floor and minus-12 without him. That’s an on/off spread of 25.9 points per 100—by far the best of any Warrior (Curry was at 11.4). Steve Kerr will likely ask him to play single coverage on Tatum the same way he did on Luka Doncic, which is crucial because it will allow Golden State to play the ECF MVP straight up without having to call for double teams. But the most important thing is for Wiggins to stay aggressive offensively because points will be hard to come by for the Dubs in this series. Curry will probably get his 25, Thompson can steal a game or two, but the Dubs need WCF Wiggins to show up every single game.
CARLO: I like and agree with Francis’ opinion, but my pick for key factor will be whether or not Draymond Green is aggressive on offense. The Celtics have a crazy defense, and it is going to be tough for the Warriors to crack it if Green doesn’t keep Boston honest. Green’s best game in the playoffs so far in my opinion was Game 6 against the Grizzlies, where he shot 6 of 14 to finish with 14 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists. He doesn’t have to score a lot, but he has to make the Celtics defense respect him enough to not sag off of him for long stretches.
GIO: Wiggins shows up. Doncic was quite a test for him, but Tatum, and at times Brown, will offer a different look. Kevon Looney gets an honorable mention here because the Celtics will go big. His rebounding will be crucial and staying out of foul trouble will be a must because without him on the floor, the Celtics’ bigs can feast.
ALDO: Looney picks up where he left off. Looney had 10 points and 18 rebounds in their Game 5 win over Dallas that sealed the Western Conference Finals and also had a 21-point and 12-rebound performance earlier in the series. His ability to grab offensive rebounds is lethal, given that he has two of the greatest shooters in NBA history waiting for kick-out passes beyond the three-point line. If Looney can help Green go toe-to-toe with the Celtics’ physically imposing big men in Al Horford and Robert and Grant Williams, it should help the Warriors neutralize one of Boston’s biggest strengths.
4. Who will get the biggest legacy boost with the 2022 title?
FRANCIS: Curry. Winning the title will give him four rings—the same number as LeBron James. He’ll also prove once again that he can win without Durant; doing it against the same team that swept KD out of the first round carries added narrative weight. If he wins the Finals MVP, he’ll check the only thing missing in his resume. Four rings, two regular season MVPs, and a Finals MVP? That likely puts Curry in the top ten conversation for some, definitely at least top 15 for most.
CARLO: For me, it’s the pair of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I agree with Francis’ assessment of Curry, but I already feel that he’ll get his respect when his career winds down. However, if they win their fourth title, Green will be proven right about them not needing Durant to win. Thompson, on the other hand, will show the world how important a player he is, and will justify his insistence that he deserved to be named one of the NBA’s top 75 players of all time – a sentiment that I agree with.
GIO: Curry is the obvious answer, so I’ll go with Tatum. Right now, the future of the NBA belongs to the likes of Antetokounmpo, Doncic, and Trae Young to name a few. Tatum can separate himself from Young and Doncic and join Antetokounmpo as stars with a title. How he does it will be crucial as well.
ALDO: Wiggins. As a former number one overall pick, his eight-year stint has been underwhelming and he still carries around the “bust” label that may be destined to haunt him for the rest of his career. When he made his first ever NBA All-Star Game this year, as a starter nonetheless, the discussion was focused on how he did not deserve the slot given his reputation, even if there was a decent case to be made that he was worthy. His current role on this team is relatively close to the one that Andre Iguodala filled on their 2015 title run that saw him win the Finals MVP and helped establish the lofty reputation that he has today. While winning the same award is a longshot, Wiggins playing a similarly influential part, with Iguodala coaching him from the sidelines, on a potential Golden State title team could greatly change the way that he is viewed by the public at large.
5. Who wins the series, and in how many games?
FRANCIS: I think people will be surprised by how close this series turns out. People assume that these are still the 2015/2016 Warriors; they are not. Boston has championship-caliber defense, and apart from Games 4 and 5 of the Memphis series, the Dubs have not faced anything nearly as suffocating this postseason. But we have seen Boston struggle in late-game situations (Game 7 vs. Heat, Game 5 vs. Bucks); coupled with Golden State’s homecourt advantage, I have the Warriors in 7.
CARLO: I feel that people might be counting out the Celtics too easily. Sure, they don’t have the championship pedigree that the Warriors do, but they have a well-balanced team that is athletic, skilled, and well-coached. They have veterans like Horford, who’s proven he can be a game-changer for a title contender, while also having undeniable offensive talent in Tatum and Brown. That said, I think the Warriors’ having a core that is competing in their sixth NBA Finals will make the difference. Warriors in 6 or 7 games for me.
GIO: Warriors in 6. The Celtics will be tougher than any team the Warriors have faced so far in the postseason. Their personnel can match up and health will be crucial for both teams. However, the Warriors have enough firepower to pick themselves up and Game 6 Klay could make another appearance here.
ALDO: I’m picking the Celtics in 7. I love the way that they play defense and feed off one another’s energy. They have the backcourt personnel to potentially slow down the Splash Brothers and Poole while the Williamses and Horford are much more formidable than the Dallas big men that they had to contend with in the previous round. I also think the Warriors may have a tough time matching up with Tatum and Brown given their relative lack of size on the wing beyond Wiggins.
BONUS: Who wins the Finals MVP?
FRANCIS: Curry is probably a lock for the award as long as he leads the team in scoring—a lifetime achievement award of sorts. But I’ll wear my fan hat for this bonus round and go with Wiggins for the same reason that Kawhi Leonard and Iguodala won in 2014 and 2015.
CARLO: It will be either Curry or Tatum, depending on whether Golden State or Boston wins the series. They are both the best players on their team, and will have to be at the top of their game to take home the title this year.
GIO: Curry will get his first Finals MVP award after quite a long wait. He showed in his last title run that he can do a little bit of everything and he may do the same thing in these finals.
ALDO: Tatum. Boston goes where he goes and he’s starting to prove that he can affect games beyond scoring.