2022 NBA Finals primer
⬅️ The road to the Finals
Sixteen teams and a month and a half later, tonight’s tip-off marks the culmination of an epic NBA postseason. In the Western Conference, No. 3 Golden State bested reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the No. 6 Denver Nuggets, the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies and the No. 4 Dallas Mavericks to advance to their sixth Finals in the last eight seasons.
- Over in the East, the No. 2 Boston Celtics had a beast of a path to the Finals, sweeping the stacked No. 7 Brooklyn Nets before downing the defending champion No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks and the No. 1 Miami Heat.
As for their regular-season journeys, the Warriors withstood injuries to Draymond Green and three-point king Steph Curry to remain near the top of the West all season long.
- The turning point of Golden State’s season, though? The return of Klay Thompson, who hit the floor in January for the first time in over two years after suffering an ACL tear and then an Achilles tear. Determination station.
But it was a much different story for the Celtics, who were thought to be out of title contention in January, with many calling for the squad to split up their superstar pair of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the trade market.
- But Boston was resilient, winning 31 of their last 41 regular-season games to flip the script on what was shaping up to be a disappointing season. Started from the bottom, now they’re here.
👊 The matchup
SOURCE: LACHLAN CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: LACHLAN CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES
The Warriors and Celtics met twice this season, with each squad registering one victory. And this Finals clash should also be evenly split, as Golden State boasts the best postseason offense, scoring 114.5 points per game, while Boston allows just 101 points per game, good for the second-best defense throughout the playoffs. Intriguing.
- What’s not evenly matched, though, is the playoff experience. Warriors players have a combined 123 games of Finals experience, while the Celtics have…none.
🌉 Golden State Warriors
SOURCE: THEARON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES
The players to watch: Golden State’s core from their five straight Finals appearances (2015–2019) — the aforementioned Curry (who nabbed Western Conference Finals MVP honors), Thompson and Green are back and better than ever, but the Warriors will also rely on two unexpected rising stars: Jordan Poole and Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins.
- Previously known as a drama king and for his offseason vaccine saga, the Warriors took a shot in signing Wiggins, and it paid off: the youngster nabbed his first All-Star nod this season. As for Poole, the 22-year-old is giving the Splash Brothers a whole new meaning.
The head coach: As a player, he may have had his “last dance,” but as a coach, Steve Kerr’s still movin’ and groovin’. The eight-year Steve Kerr era has been a, well, golden one for the Warriors. And with eight combined titles as a player and coach, Kerr still has plenty of room on his fingers for another ring.
Keys to success: The Warriors' two points of weakness have been their turnovers and their fouls. In playoff losses, they’ve yielded over 16 turnovers per game, an outcome intensified by their high-paced style of play.
- As for the fouls, Golden State needs to be wary of a taller Boston team who will undoubtedly look to attack their big men, especially foul-happy Green.
☘️ Boston Celtics
SOURCE: MADDIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES
The players to watch: As mentioned, despite the calls to split them up, Brown and Eastern Conference Finals MVP Tatum are the dynamic duo that power this Boston offense. On the other side of the ball, the stout Celtics D is anchored by Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
- Another major factor in this Celtics turnaround? Thirty-five-year-old Al Horford, who will be making his first Finals appearance in his 15-year NBA career. “Old” people can dream too.
The head coach: The aforementioned Udoka is not receiving nearly the amount of praise he deserves for turning his team around to reach the Finals in his first year at the helm. From his bonds with his players to his stalwart game plans, Udoka is more than proving his worth for the Celtics.
Key to success: Boston’s defense has been the story of the postseason, but they’ll face their toughest test yet in the explosive Warriors. If the C’s can shut down Golden State’s superstars like they did to top players from their previous matchups, they have a real shot at a record 18th ’ship.
📺 How to tune in
SOURCE: RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGES
The quest for the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins tonight at 9 p.m. ET, with all games airing on ABC in the U.S. and TSN or Sportsnet in Canada. Stock up on popcorn and settle in — it’s time to crown a champion.