Updated: Jun 1
The NBA season is finally coming to a head after a season of twists and turns and everything in between. Before we talk about our NBA Finals matchup (which is a great one by the way), we do have to acknowledge that the road to the end has seemed more like a season of Survivor than professional basketball. The season was marred by players who missed significant chunks of time either due to injury or due to being unhappy with their contracts and the teams they played for. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Khris Middleton, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Ben Simmons, Zion Williamson, Jamal Murray and Ja Morant are all players who have missed significant time this season, whether in the regular season or postseason. It seemed somewhat obvious coming into the postseason that the teams most likely to make it to the NBA finals would be the ones who were blessed with relative health up and down the roster, and that narrative has proven to be true.
The dust has now cleared, and we have a very intriguing matchup on our hands. The Boston Celtics led by All NBA First Team selection Jayson Tatum have emerged as Eastern Conference Champions and will take on a team who is no stranger to the big stage, the Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors.
On paper both teams are very evenly matched. The Warriors are led by the incomparable Steph Curry who is looking to solidify his reputation as one of the greatest players of all time, as well as Big 3 teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green who are looking to also solidify their Hall of Fame legacies as 4-time NBA Champions. But if the Warriors are to succeed it will be their emerging young talent who will need to make the difference, most notably 22-year-old and budding star in the making Jordan Poole, big man Kevon Looney, and the polarizing Andrew Wiggins who made his first all-star game this season. The Celtics are led by 20 point per game scorers Tatum and Jaylon Brown, one of the best one-two punches in the league. The Celtics depth however may be their biggest strength. They have battle tested vets like NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and the ageless Al Horford, strong bench pieces like Grant Williams and Derrick White, and Robert Williams who is a tenacious rebounder.
Each teams’ roads to the NBA Finals however could not have been more different. The Celtics were challenged with NBA Final caliber matchups every step of the way. In the first round they faced Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals they faced Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and in the Eastern Conference Finals they faced the #1 seed in the East and formidable foe, the Miami Heat led by Jimmy Butler. The Warriors on the other hand faced the Denver Nuggets who lacked depth around MVP Nikola Jokic, the Memphis Grizzlies who were without the services of star point guard Ja Morant, and the Dallas Mavericks who valiantly knocked off the #1 seed Phoenix Suns in the West, however, did not pose the same type of threat that most teams would face in a Conference Finals matchup. You can make one of two here – The Boston Celtics have been battle tested and are better prepared for a matchup like the Warriors, or, Golden State hasn’t had to work as hard and should be better rested physically and mentally for the Finals.
On paper I would give the slight advantage to Boston who I believe has more talent and is deeper. Marcus Smart matches up well with Steph Curry, Al Horford’s experience will come in handy against some of the younger bigs on Golden State, and Klay Thompson has been solid on offense but is clearly not the defender he once was coming back from injury.
That said, championships are not won on paper, they’re won on the court. Andrew Wiggins will matchup very nicely against Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, and as always, Draymond Green is an x-factor that the Celtics haven’t had to deal with thus far. I also have some concerns about Tatum’s consistency and the relative health of Boston. In the words of Dusty Rhodes, the Celtics have been living on the edge of a lightning bolt, and the Warriors have the pedigree and experienced coach who will pounce in those vulnerable situations. My head says the Celtics, but my gut says the Warriors. I’m going with my gut here – Warriors in 7.
(Top photo: Winslow Townson / USA Today)