10 things to watch in this star-filled Celtics-Warriors Finals series


10 things to watch in this star-filled Celtics-Warriors Finals series

2. Robert Williams’ knee

The Celtics center was absent nearly a month after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus on March 27, and then suffered a bruised bone in the same knee during the Conference semifinals. There were moments when he looked like his rimming, shot-slinging self, but they were rare. And during Game 7 against the Heat, he just looked limping. Williams had 2 points and three rebounds in 14 minutes.

Coach Ime Udoka said Williams was still dealing with swelling that was limiting his movement.

Though the Warriors are known for their outside shooters, they are averaging 47.6 points in the paint this playoff and are fourth in the league. Williams, who found success in a free safety role, could be crucial against Warriors slashers like Jordan Poole.

Golden State didn’t rely on the 3-pointer as much as one might expect. So far in the playoffs, 41.6 percent of his shots have come from beyond the arc, compared to the Celtics’ 45.5 percent.

3. Kings of the fourth

The Warriors were absolutely spectacular in the fourth quarter of the playoffs. In 16 games, they have outscored their opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions, almost 9 points better than the closest team. They also possess an otherworldly offensive rating of 133.9 in the fourth quarter.

Ime Udoka and the Celtics will be tested especially in the fourth quarter against the Warriors.Contributors to Matthew J Lee/Globe

Udoka has often said that one of the goals of his physical, relentless, turnover-heavy defense is to wear down an opponent in the first 36 minutes, only for tussles to erupt in the final 12 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler both looked at times gassed late in games against Boston. The finale could become a battle of attrition.

4. Star Power

Jayson Tatum and Stephen Curry were the Conference Finals MVPs, but neither were particularly dominant in either those series or these playoffs. Tatum has a 40-point game and eight with at least five turnovers. Curry has not yet scored more than 34 points and missed 18 free throws.

But both can break out, and if one does, it could be the tipping point. Given that Curry is 34 and has missed the last 12 games of the regular season with a foot injury – suffered when Marcus Smart rolled on him while chasing a loose ball – Tatum seems better positioned to fire to catch.

5. At the front

Milwaukee’s towering frontcourt of Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis made life difficult for the Celtics in the paint. The warriors aren’t nearly as imposing. No starter is taller than 6ft 9in, and in the starting lineups, the Celtics could have a size advantage at any position. Though Kevon Looney has munched on rebounds in the postseason, he’s not a significant threat as a rim guard.

Of course, the Warriors’ lineup choices will determine how much the Celtics lean in their length. For example, if Golden State puts four knockdown shooters on the floor at once, it becomes difficult for Boston to play double-sized groups. It should be an interesting chess game.

6. Street Fighter

For the second straight series, the Celtics will not have home field advantage. But that might not matter at this point. After beating their opponents away from home during the regular season with a league-best 7.7 points per 100 possessions, the Celtics have a stellar 7-2 record ahead of TD Garden in the playoffs.

The Chase Center offers Jordan Poole and the rest of the Warriors a rowdy home field advantage.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The crowd at the Chase Center will be louder than the rest. But there are a lot of Boston transplants in the Bay Area. So look for green to find your way inside the building.

On the other hand, the Warriors have become a global roadshow, and they will have more supporters at TD Garden than any other visiting team in these playoffs.

7. Golden Additions?

The Celtics caught a few breaks in the playoffs. The Nets were missing Ben Simmons and sniper Joe Harris. The Bucks were without All-Star forward Khris Middleton. Heat stars Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro missed five games combined. But Golden State, a team plagued by injuries in recent seasons, go into the Finals with key pieces intact.

The absences were on the periphery, with Gary Payton II (elbow), Otto Porter (foot) and Andre Iguodala (neck) all sidelined. Payton, a top defenseman, had been out since the start of the conference semifinals and would provide a boost at this end of the stage. Porter’s plus-15 net rating in the playoffs leads Golden State by almost 5 points. The Warriors hope all three will return for this series.

8. A familiar spotlight

The Celtics have not shied away from the spotlight, and their performance on the road has shown they don’t falter. But these are the Finals, and no Boston player has experience on this stage. The Warriors core, meanwhile, will enter their sixth finals.

If the Celtics have jitters, they probably won’t last long, but it’s worth keeping an eye on in Game 1. Still, don’t expect the Celtics to be intimidated at all by the stars on the other side. They are 9-7 against Golden State during the Steve Kerr era, the best record among opponents.

9. Secondary Options

Udoka essentially reduced his rotation to seven in the final three games of the conference finals, with Payton Pritchard being the odd man. But Golden State doesn’t have a physical isolation player like Butler who could take advantage of a matchup against Pritchard. This series could offer opportunities for the sniper. The Celtics have a net rating of plus 10.9 this postseason with Pritchard on the court, the best among rotation players.

Could Payton Pritchard play a bigger role than expected when it comes to the NBA Finals?Contributors to Matthew J Lee/Globe

10. Weak connections

The Celtics won’t have as much trouble finding weaker links in Golden State’s defense. Curry is hunted in Switches although he has generally held up well. Poole, who attacks immediately off the bench, will need plenty of help if he lands on Tatum or Brown. Klay Thompson has also lost a step defensively after missing most of the last two seasons through injury.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

You May Also Like