NBA Finals preview: Breaking down Celtics-Warriors matchup
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Preview capsule for the NBA Finals, which start Thursday:
East No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (51-31, 12-6) vs. West No. 3 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (53-29, 12-4)
Season series: Tied, 1-1. Golden State won at Boston 111-107 on Dec. 17. The Celtics rolled on Golden State’s home floor in the rematch on March 16, winning 110-88.
Schedule: Thursday and Sunday at San Francisco, June 8 and 10 at Boston, June 13 at San Francisco if necessary, June 16 at Boston if necessary, June 19 at San Francisco if necessary.
Storyline: A rematch of the 1964 NBA Finals. Golden State is seeking a fourth championship in eight years, while the Celtics are trying to break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers and become the first team with 18 NBA titles. Celtics coach Ime Udoka will seek to become the 10th coach in NBA history to win a title in his first season, something that Golden State’s Steve Kerr did with the Warriors in 2015.
The starters matchup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney for the Warriors against Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Robert Williams III for the Celtics. Put simply, it’s the great offense of Golden State against the great defense of Boston. The experience edge goes to the Warriors. But Smart, Brown and Tatum have been building for this moment and are now, officially, a Big 3. Smart — the defensive player of the year — will draw the primary assignment on Curry, the most prolific and probably most creative 3-point shooter in the history of the game.
The bench keys: Derrick White had a huge Eastern Conference finals for Boston, and Jordan Poole has exceeded all reasonable expectations for Golden State throughout the playoffs. If the Warriors get Gary Payton II back to form in this series after his elbow fracture, that’s a huge plus. Grant Williams would be another X-factor off the bench for Boston and will likely log huge minutes anyway because it wouldn’t seem likely that Robert Williams III — dogged by knee recovery — will be on the floor a ton.
Injury watch: Williams III has been on the floor for Boston, but limited and limping often. Otto Porter Jr. (left foot) is planning to return in this series for the Warriors. Payton II’s return would give the Warriors a boost, particularly on the defensive end. The Warriors’ Andre Iguodala, who has said he’s retiring after this season, has missed the last 12 games with a cervical disc issue.
Numbers of note: The Celtics have played exactly 100 games so far this season — they went 25-25 in the first 50, 38-12 in the second 50. ... Golden State has a league-best 25 wins this season in games where it trailed after the first quarter, with six of those wins coming in the playoffs. ... Warriors coach Steve Kerr has the best postseason winning percentage in NBA history at .736 (89-32). He’s coaching in the NBA Finals for the sixth time, something only Phil Jackson (13 times), Red Auerbach (11), Pat Riley (9), John Kundla (6) and Gregg Popovich (6) have done. ... Boston’s magic number this season: 107. The Celtics were 48-9 when holding teams to 107 or less, 15-28 when allowing 108 or more. ... Golden State’s magic number this season: 115. The Warriors were 61-15 when holding teams to 115 or less, 4-18 when allowing 116 or more. ... Warriors players Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney have a combined 1,930 points in the NBA Finals entering this season. Everyone else in this series, including the entire Boston roster, has combined for zero.
Prediction: The Celtics won four relatively close games to sweep a Brooklyn team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in Round 1, won a Game 7 against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2, then went on the road to beat Miami in a Game 7 for the East title. They are, by any definition, battle tested. The Warriors are trying to pull off a comeback story; they were the best show in basketball from 2015 through 2019, hit the reset button while dealing with injuries and roster revamping, and here they are on the brink of another title. They are proven, and their history — 26 consecutive series with at least one road win — means that Boston will probably have to win twice at Chase Center to pull this off. Not going to be a romp, but Warriors in six.
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