Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Boston Celtics have demonstrated toughness, resilience, elite young talent and highly competent leadership guided by first-year head coach Ime Udoka in reaching the NBA Finals. Their victories over the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in succession should not be minimized, but all of those teams had glaring flaws and or injuries that the Celtics opportunistically exploited.

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are a different beast. With Game 1 of the NBA Finals starting tonight in San Francisco, the Celtics must contend with a three-time NBA champion with a wealth of experience and supreme ability who are on a mission to indelibly etch themselves among some of the league’s great historical dynasties.

Although the Celtics can light up a scoreboard, with two of the planet’s best wing players in All-NBA First Team selection Jayson Tatum and All-Star Jaylen Brown, capable of generating 30- and 40-plus point games, their calling card is defense. Undoubtedly they’ll need an all-time great series on that end of the floor to defeat a Warriors team replete with lethal shooters and athletic slashers that put relentless mental and physical pressure on opponents.

The Celtics’ aggressive switching defense, spearheaded by 6-foot-4 guard Marcus Smart, the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, bodied up Kevin Durant in their opening round series versus the Nets and forced one of the most unstoppable scorers in the league’s 75 years of existence into shooting 38.6% overall and 33.3% on 3-point attempts in sweeping Brooklyn 4-0.
While the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo imposed his will and massive skillset on the Celtics, becoming the first player ever to attain 200 or more points, 100 or more rebounds and 50 or more assists in a playoff series, Boston matched the 6-foot-11, 250 pound forward’s punishing physicality, and by Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a 109-81 win to advance to conference finals, had exhausted the two-time league most valuable player and 2021 NBA Finals MVP.

The Celtics’ meeting with the Heat was a battle of attrition with both teams enduring injuries to multiple players. But the Heat’s loss of NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro—their second leading scorer during the regular season at 20.7 points per game—to a groin injury that kept him out of Games 4, 5 and 6, and confined the shooting guard to only seven minutes in Game 7, was too much to overcome against the Celtics’ taxing on ball compression.

Even Butler authoring a remarkable legacy defining performance in the series, nearly single-handedly dragging his team past the Celtics with 47 points in Game 6 and 35 in Game 7, wasn’t sufficient. Now the Celtics are confronted with a conundrum.

They eliminated a Bucks and Heat team with only one consistent offensive threat each. The Warriors come at opponents in waves with Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole doing damage from every sector of the court, constantly cutting, slashing and hitting unguardable long range bombs. With forward Draymond Green serving as the orchestrator, the Warriors’ offense is a basketball symphony.

While they are turnover prone, Boston must convert those mistakes into points. Additionally, while much plaudits are given to the Warriors’ offense, they are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA applying both analytics and the eye-test. The pick here is Warriors in six.

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