Warriors vs. Celtics: Five NBA Finals matchups to watch, including Stephen Curry at both ends of the court


Warriors vs. Celtics: Five NBA Finals matchups to watch, including Stephen Curry at both ends of the court

The 2022 NBA Finals will feature two teams with elite defenses. During the regular season, the Boston Celtics had the best defensive rating in the league, and the Golden State Warriors were right behind in 2nd place. In addition to the dominant defense, both teams are very deep and extremely well trained. The series won’t be lacking in star power either. Alongside Golden State’s all-star trio Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Boston boasts its own power triumvirate consisting of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.

The series promises to be entertaining and a fitting end to an eventful NBA season. Here’s a look at five key encounters in the Boston-Golden State battle.

1. Marcus Smart vs. Steph Curry

This one writes itself. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Marcus Smart goes up against one of the deadliest offensive weapons the league has ever seen in Steph Curry. Both guys are point guards so Smart should spend a lot of time containing Curry. He’ll certainly get some help in the form of switches, traps, double-teams, etc., but the main task will likely fall to Smart.

There’s no stopping him when it comes to Curry, so it’ll be Smart’s job to make life difficult for Curry and make sure he doesn’t get too many clean looks. Easier said than done, of course, but if there’s one up to the task, it’s the stubborn Smart. How well he’s able to defend Curry could go a long way towards who ultimately wins the series.

2. Andrew Wiggins vs. Jayson Tatum

Andrew Wiggins has been assigned to be Luka Doncic’s main defense during the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, and he is likely to have another extremely tough assignment in the form of Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals. Tatum has help around, but he’s the core of Boston’s offense and his ability to score is central to Boston’s success.

Just like Smart will get help from Curry, Wiggins will likely get help from Tatum at times, but he’ll likely have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Wiggin’s height and athleticism make him an ideal defender for a player like Tatum, who is tall and athletic himself. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see Steve Kerr match Wiggins’ minutes with Tatum’s to some degree, especially if he’s able to pull off some early hits.

3. Steve Kerr vs. Ime Udoka

The lateral chess game between the head coaches is always one of the most intriguing stories en route to the finals and this season is no different. The difference in experience between Steve Kerr and Ime Udoka is mind-boggling. Kerr is training in his sixth NBA Finals, as Golden State did five straight years from 2015-2019. He has coached in 121 playoff games and won 89 of them.

Udoka, on the other hand, is in his first Finals as a rookie head coach and has just 16 games of postseason coaching under his belt. It will be extremely interesting to see how much these differences in experience materialize throughout the series and how important they ultimately are.

4. Klay Thompson vs. Jaylen Brown

As shooting guards in their respective teams’ starting XI, Jaylen Brown and Klay Thompson will likely spend a lot of time protecting each other and their matchup will be an important one as both rely heavily on providing extra points to their teams. Brown is Boston’s secondary offensive option behind Tatum, and Thompson fills that role for Golden State along with reserve guard Jordan Poole.

With a ton of attention being paid to Curry and Tatum, these second-place scorers could swing the entire series with a few good – or bad – games.

5. Boston’s offense against Steph Curry

We already know what Steph Curry will do on offense in the Finals for Golden State, but he needs to do it on defense as well. As CBS Sports’ Brad Botkin pointed this out in his recent post, the Celtics will likely be chasing Curry on the defensive end throughout the series. While the Celtics don’t really have a weak spot for the Warriors on the defensive end, Curry will have a bullseye on his back if Boston has the ball.

Though Curry has improved defensively throughout his career, he’s still far from elite and Boston will look to capitalize on that. They’ll happily try to isolate taller, more athletic players like Tatum and Brown on Curry, and he’ll be tasked with holding his own. Also, the Celtics will be hoping to wear him down by consistently attacking Curry so he has less energy to hurt them on offense. Golden State needs to hope Curry is up to the task defensively.

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