This promised to be a fun tight series and it hasn’t disappointed. Boasting many fascinating matchups primarily Stephen Curry against Jayson Tatum. Considered the greatest shooter of all-time, Curry, is facing off against one of the league’s bright young stars in Tatum. It promised to be a fun series and so far it’s lived up to its billing. Both teams have shown depth and versatility emphasizing ball movement. They both play excellent ‘D,’ and score in transition. This was evident in game 1 for Boston, where they outplayed the Warriors at their own game. Golden State returned with a vengeance in game 2 stifling Boston’s attack and dominating offensively. In blowing out the Celtics in Game 2, it appears they are capable of playing at an even higher gear. Game 3 is key to this series as statistically the winner of Game 3 wins the finals over 80% of the time. If the Warriors prevail I believe Golden State remain title favorites. Let’s take a deeper dive into the series so far, and moving forward.
Golden State Warriors Remain Title Favorites
Golden State Warriors are a Scoring Machine
Although evenly matched in many ways, Golden State has the scoring edge in no small part to the depth they have on show. Boasting the ‘splash brothers,’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the greatest perimeter shooters of all time. They now have added scoring depth with the emergence of the revelatory Jordan Poole. Last but not least, the rejuvenated Andrew Wiggins has had an All-Star year to further add to their scoring depth.
Going into the finals Golden State is the number one offense in the playoffs averaging 114.5 points per game, with Boston 8th at 107 ppg. The Warriors are also number one in assists in the playoffs, averaging 28.3, whilst Boston are 5th with 24.
Golden State, under coach Steve Kerr, plays at a dizzying speed. They are constantly moving off the ball, setting screens, and shooting threes in transition. Steph is pretty much unguardable with his range, which is often from the arena parking lot! Thus far he’s had a tremendous series scoring 34 points in game 1. Following that 29 points in game 2 whilst sitting the entirety of the 4th quarter. Coach Kerr described Curry’s scoring outbursts in this series as “Breath taking.”
Jordan Poole, averaging a strong 18.5 points in the regular season with almost 45% field goal percentage, he stepped up in game 2. Especially, with a 38-foot-three half-court shot which was the back breaker for Boston.
As seen in the blowout in game 2, it feels that the Warriors have an extra gear to exploit which is why Golden State remains title favorites.
Warriors Superior Depth
Despite the scoring as mentioned above, the player who makes it all tick on both ends of the floor is Draymond Green. He makes the offense go. Setting the tempo with his screens and passing and he’s one of the elite defenders in the league. Green has described this year’s team as a “passers dream” with their multitude of scoring options.
Further to these names, they have a ton of other options on both ends of the floor. Kevon Looney, has been tremendous in these playoffs and in the finals so far, becoming one of the elite rebounders in the league. Although his impact may not always show up on the box score, Looney has outplayed Robert Williams and has been excellent defensively in both games. Otto Porter Jr also provides valuable versatility, especially as a ‘stretch four’. Gary Payton back from injury stepped up and had a key role in game 2. It’s a deep rotation, which outshines Boston who doesn’t have the depth off the bench that the Warriors do.
Boston Celtics- Defense Wins Championships
Although Golden State and Boston were evenly matched in the regular season in defensive efficiency, Boston has taken it to another level in these playoffs. They rank 2nd overall in defense in these playoffs. They also match up well with the Warriors as they rank 2nd in pick and roll defense – which is key to how the Warriors like to run their offense.
Robert Williams and Al Horford anchor their defense and are difficult to get past in the paint. Boston doesn’t have any weaknesses defensively in their starting lineup for the Warriors to exploit. Marcus Smart won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year this year as the best on-ball defender from the point guard spot. Jaylen Brown also provides excellent D from the other guard position, as well as being their second option scorer with Tatum.
Furthermore, Boston switches most of the time, so they are able to go toe-to-toe with Golden State’s movement-based offense. This was an advantage over the Warriors seen in the opening game, where they matched the Warriors at their own game. They also out-assisted and were superior offensively in the first game. Horford was the key to that victory, providing 26 points. Brown has also had a strong finals, particularly with 24 in game 1.
For Boston to win, they need to continue to match the Warriors at their own offensive game moving forward, whilst playing more physically on defense.
X-Factor’s for the Series on Both Sides
Whilst Steph Curry is the obvious name, and consensus favorite to win Finals MVP, the key to the Warriors for me is Draymond Green. Draymond is their key man defensively, capable of matching Boston’s grit and intensity. His intangibles will be invaluable if the Warriors are to win. Not only does he provide the grit and IQ defensively; he is the main distributer and sets high screens to allow the Warriors’ offense to function at its best.
It is imperative that Draymond stays on the court and avoids early foul trouble or talking his way into technical fouls, the only downside to his edge. I would argue that Draymond could count himself fortunate that he wasn’t ejected in game 2 for two technical fouls. In fairness to the refereeing crew, they opted for leniency, when Brown and Draymond were involved in a minor skirmish. Perhaps the outcome of the second game would have changed without Green on the court.
As long as he provides winning intangibles and doesn’t overstep the mark with his tenacity, it’s hard to overlook that the Warriors simply don’t lose playoff series when they have a whole unit of Steph, Klay, and Draymond. I don’t see that changing this year, which is why I still believe Golden State remain title favorites.
I considered Robert Williams, vitally important defensively in the paint. However, their key man is Marcus Smart. He is one of the few men in the NBA who can guard Stephen Curry. He held Curry to just 29% shooting as the closest defender in prior matchups to this series. Smart plays tough, and physical, and is capable of making Steph work for every bucket.
Smart needs to try and take Curry out of his rhythm if Boston is to prevail. However, to this point, Smart has barely laid a glove on Curry. Steph has thus far shown he is by far the best player on the court in this series.
Battle of the Superstars- Tatum v Curry
Jayson Tatum has emerged as one of the next superstars in the NBA this regular season and playoffs. He averaged nearly 27 points in the regular season and earned First Team All-NBA honors.
He’s taken his game to an even further level with a huge playoffs. For instance, his buzzer-beater against the Nets helped them to a sweep of that series. His staggering 46 points in game 6 against the Bucks helped them beat the Champions, and he was key to overcoming the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. Tatum’s capable of putting this team on his back, with his ability to score in a multitude of different ways.
Thus far in the series, it’s been a mixed bag, he struggled with his shot in the opening game but came back with a better second game scoring 28 points in defeat.
Considered the greatest shooter of all-time Stephen Curry, will further add to his legacy and likely be considered in the top-10 best players ever if he wins his 4th NBA title here.
As a two-time league MVP and scoring champ, and the 3-point record holder, the only thing he doesn’t have is a finals MVP. Few would bet against him gaining this accolade in this series. There isn’t a player like him in the league. His combination of energy, movement on and off-ball, shooting, and playmaking is unrivaled. He’s been every bit that star thus far in this series. He has to be the early favorite for Finals MVP.
Klay Needs to Step Up for the Warriors to Win
Averaging just 13 points on 30% shooting (27% from 3) Klay Thompson has been largely anonymous in this series. He has to step up and provide a partner for Curry if the Warriors are to prevail in this series.
Klay needs to move off the ball far better than he has, and curl around screens more to allow Steph further room to dominate. Otherwise, Boston will tee up on Curry. It’s a testament to Curry’s talent that despite not having a consistent second option, and Klay appearing slow coming off screens, he’s still able to dominate. There remains too much pressure on Curry if the Warriors are to succeed.
In fairness, Klay has been out for almost three full seasons with a torn ACL and a torn Achilles. It’s only natural to expect Klay to take time to find himself again. However, we can only base this on the here and now, and he does look a step slow in the series. Defense used to be an elite part of his game, and it’s largely been poor in this series. His shooting motion doesn’t quite have the lift it did before.
Whether this is general fatigue it’s possible, but he needs to be better for the rest of the series. Jordan Poole will need to step up and carry a scoring load which he showed in the second game. If Curry can get a bit more help, I believe Golden State remains title favorites. Let’s not forget Klay dropped 32 against the Mavs to clinch their Western Conference series. He still has it in his locker, even if slightly diminished.
Finals Prediction: Warriors in 7
Golden State have a slight edge in a number of areas, primarily know-how. This is their sixth finals appearance in eight seasons. This experience will help them immeasurably in big moments.
Also, Boston looked very shaky closing out their deciding game against the Heat. Despite their dominance over Miami, they can perhaps count themselves fortunate that the outcome wasn’t different had Jimmy Butler – who cooked them in the series – pulled up for a transition three instead of taking the easy layup in the last possession.
This was also evident in game 2 of this series, where they turned the ball over 18 times leading to a ton of easy baskets in transition for the Warriors.
Golden State’s depth in scoring will be hard to stop, this was particularly prevalent in the second game. Never underestimate desperation, and the Warriors looked superior on both sides of the ball with that added desperation after losing the first game.
Overall statistically game 3 is the key, but if the Warriors can take at least one of these next two games on the road, they have to be fancied to close it out. I predict Warriors in seven and Curry finals MVP.