Celtics vs Warriors: Storylines to watch in the 2022 NBA Finals
This year’s NBA Finals tips off on Friday featuring storied franchises in the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors.
Both teams found themselves contending for the Larry O’Brien Trophy despite not being among the title favorites entering the season.
They also took different paths to the Finals with the Warriors breezing through the Western Conference while the Celtics needing to overcome a pair of Game 7s to emerge in the East.
The narrative doesn’t end here as this year’s finale promises a riveting showdown with a bevy of starpower.
The NBA’s landmark 75th Anniversary Season will culminate with one of its original franchises lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Boston and Golden State have played all 76 NBA seasons, beginning in 1946-47. In fact, the Warriors won the first NBA championship (as the Philadelphia Warriors).
History at Stake
The Celtics are in position to win their record-setting 18th NBA championship, which would break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most titles. The Lakers pulled even with Boston by winning No. 17 two years ago. The Celtics last won the NBA championship in the 2007-08 season. Boston is in the NBA Finals for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
The Warriors are seeking their fourth NBA championship in eight seasons and seventh overall. With a seventh title, Golden State would pass the Chicago Bulls for sole possession of third place all time, behind the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers (17 each).
This is the 22nd NBA Finals appearance for Boston and the 12th for Golden State. Only the Los Angeles Lakers (32) have appeared in more NBA Finals than these two teams. The Celtics have a 17-4 series record in the NBA Finals. The Warriors have a 6-5 series record in the NBA Finals.
Boston is the fifth different Eastern Conference team to reach the NBA Finals in the last five years. A series victory here for the Celtics would mark the fifth different franchise to win the NBA championship in the last five years. It’s been more than 40 years since a different franchise won each of five consecutive NBA championships. (The last time it happened was 1976-77 – 1980-81.)
The Celtics and Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals for the first time in 58 years and the second time overall. The 1964 championship series between Boston and the San Francisco Warriors – won by the Celtics in five games – marked the first NBA Finals matchup between legends Bill Russell (Boston) and Wilt Chamberlain (San Francisco), whose rivalry helped define the sport for a decade. The Celtics and Warriors also met three other times in the playoffs when the Warriors called Philadelphia home before moving West in 1962.
This series is stocked with standouts. Golden State guard Stephen Curry, a two-time NBA MVP and NBA 75th Anniversary Team selection, and Boston forward Jayson Tatum made the 2021-22 All-NBA Team. Warriors forwards Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins joined Curry and Tatum as selections to the 2022 NBA All-Star Game. Green is also a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year – an award won by Celtics guard Marcus Smart this season. Boston forward-center Al Horford and Golden State guard Klay Thompson are both five-time NBA All-Stars. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown was an NBA All-Star last season.
The Stuff of Legend
Western Conference Finals MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State is one step away from burnishing his legacy as an NBA legend. A series victory would give the NBA 75th Anniversary Team member and three-point king four NBA championships to go with two NBA MVP awards. The short list of six players to win at least four NBA championships and two NBA MVP awards is a who’s who of basketball royalty: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell.
New on the Scene
No player on the Celtics’ roster has ever played in the NBA Finals before. Boston is looking to accomplish what the Milwaukee Bucks did last season: win the NBA championship without a player on the roster with previous NBA Finals experience. The Warriors also won it all in the 2014-15 season with no previous NBA Finals experience – the first of their five consecutive Finals appearances.
Bay Area Bounce-Back
What a ride for the Warriors: five straight NBA Finals appearances and three NBA championships from 2014-15 – 2018-19, then two non-playoff seasons (including the NBA’s worst record in 2019-20) and now back in the NBA Finals again. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green’s vintage play and Klay Thompson’s inspirational return have blended with Jordan Poole’s emergence and Andrew Wiggins’ all-around impact to catapult the Warriors into the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight years.
The Warriors are the first team to reach the NBA Finals six times in an eight-season span since the Chicago Bulls from 1990-91 – 1997-98. The other two franchises to do it are the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics began the 2021-22 season 25-25 and were tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference before a 26-6 surge lifted them into the East’s second playoff seed. Boston is the first team in 41 years and the fifth team overall to make the NBA Finals after having a .500 or worse record through the first 50 games of the regular season. (The most recent was the 1980-81 Houston Rockets.) If the Celtics win this series, they would be the first NBA champion to start the season .500 or worse through 50 games.
Eastern Conference Finals MVP Jayson Tatum of Boston enters his first NBA Finals as a bona fide superstar and favorite of his peers. Tatum is already a three-time NBA All-Star and a 2021-22 All-NBA First Team selection … and he just turned 24 years old in March. Golden State forward Draymond Green, a teammate of Tatum’s on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team last summer, recently told the Celtics’ standout that he could be the NBA MVP next season. Former NBA MVP Kevin Durant has similarly praised Tatum’s MVP-caliber talent. The best may be yet to come for a bright young star.
Defense Wins Championships
These are the two best defensive teams in the NBA this season, as measured by defensive rating. Reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, 2021-22 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection Robert Williams III and versatile big man Al Horford anchor Boston’s league-leading D. Former Defensive Player of the Year and 2021-22 All-Defensive Second Team member Draymond Green and indefatigable forward Andrew Wiggins lead Golden State’s No. 2 defense.
Steph and Smart
Golden State guard Stephen Curry is a two-time NBA MVP and one of the greatest shooters in league history. Boston guard Marcus Smart is the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the relentless leader of Boston’s league-best defense. They set the tone for their respective franchises – it’s been 13 seasons with Golden State for Curry and eight seasons with Boston for Smart. Their head-to-head matchup will be one to watch.
The success of both teams is rooted in drafting, developing and maintaining a core group of players. Guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and forward Draymond Green were drafted by the Warriors and have been together for 10 years (including two missed seasons for Thompson). Forward Jayson Tatum and guards Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were drafted by the Celtics and have been together for five years, with center Robert Williams III joining that trio for the last four seasons. The continuity has paid off: Golden State is in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons, and Boston has made at least the Eastern Conference Finals four times in Brown’s six seasons and three times in Tatum’s five seasons.
Three years after sustaining a knee injury in the NBA Finals that led to two missed seasons and nearly 950 days between NBA games, guard Klay Thompson is back on the big stage with the Warriors. The five-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion has made an inspiring comeback and says he wants to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy again “more than anything.” Thompson will be in the NBA Finals for the sixth consecutive season in which he has played (2014-15 – 2018-19 and 2021-22).
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr is looking to put the finishing touches on a memorable season. In December, he was named the new USA Basketball Men’s National Team head coach. In February, he was named one of the 15 Greatest Coaches in NBA History. And now in June, he has a chance to become only the sixth coach in league history to win four or more NBA championships, joining Phil Jackson (11), Red Auerbach (nine), John Kundla (five), Gregg Popovich (five) and Pat Riley (five).
Ime Udoka has led Boston to the NBA Finals in his first season as an NBA head coach. He has a chance to become the fourth person in the last eight years to win an NBA championship as a rookie head coach , joining Steve Kerr (2014-15 season), Tyronn Lue (2015-16) and Nick Nurse (2018-19). Udoka overcame two ACL surgeries to play in the NBA as an undrafted player. His career included a stint with the San Antonio Spurs playing for the legendary Gregg Popovich, who gave Udoka his start as an NBA assistant coach and later hired him as a USA Basketball assistant.
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and Boston head coach Ime Udoka have been mentored by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, a five-time NBA champion and the winningest coach in league history. Both played multiple seasons for the Spurs under Popovich at separate times. Both were assistant coaches under Popovich with USA Basketball Men’s National Team (Kerr has now succeeded Pop as head coach). Udoka also served as an assistant coach to Popovich in San Antonio.
Worth the Wait
Boston forward-center Al Horford’s first NBA Finals appearance has been a long time coming. A 15-year veteran with 13 seasons of playoff experience, Horford has played more playoff games without appearing in the NBA Finals than any player in league history (141 playoff games). The five-time NBA All-Star, who turns 36 the day after Game 1 of the NBA Finals, is beloved by teammates for his selfless play and steady leadership. He has had a terrific season in his second stint with the Celtics, highlighted by a fantastic playoff run.
Back in the Bay
This series is something of a homecoming for Boston guard Jaylen Brown, who starred at the University of California, Berkeley before becoming one of the best two-way wings in the NBA. Brown followed a similar path as current NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim: They both attended the same high school in Marietta, Georgia, played one year at Cal, were selected with the third pick in the NBA Draft and developed into NBA All-Stars. Brown has described Abdur-Rahim as a mentor and “big brother.”
When the Warriors made the last of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances three years ago, they did not have forward Andrew Wiggins or guard Jordan Poole on the roster. Those two players have since put their stamp on the franchise as indispensable players. Wiggins, the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, started the NBA All-Star Game this season on the strength of his stellar all-around play, including dogged defense against top scorers. Poole, who spent part of last season developing his game in the NBA G League, has emerged as a dynamic scorer to complement the Splash Brothers.
Family of Champions
Guard Gary Payton II earned the Warriors’ last roster spot at the start of the season and is now in position to join his father, NBA 75th Anniversary Team selection Gary Payton, as an NBA champion. (The elder Payton won his championship with the Miami Heat in 2005-06.) The Paytons would be the fifth father-son duo to both win an NBA championship, a list that includes Golden State guard Klay Thompson and his father, Mychal Thompson. The younger Payton, a high-energy contributor and tenacious defender as an undrafted player, is looking to return for the NBA Finals after missing the Western Conference Finals with an elbow injury.
Andre the Giant
If Golden State forward Andre Iguodala takes the court against Boston after being sidelined for a month, he would be playing in his seventh NBA Finals. Only 17 players in league history have played in seven or more NBA Finals. Iguodala, 38, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP with Golden State, appeared in five consecutive NBA Finals with the Warriors from 2015-19 and the 2020 NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. He was a finalist for the 2021-22 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.
Golden State center Kevon Looney and Boston forward Grant Williams have been unsung heroes for their respective teams – two consummate professionals and popular teammates. Looney’s defense, rebounding and scoring at the rim have proved essential for the Warriors, especially in the Western Conference Finals, where he posted two double-doubles and had the highest-scoring game of his NBA career (21 points). Williams energizes the Celtics with his defense and three-point shooting, shifting seamlessly between the starting lineup and a reserve role. He was a finalist for the 2021-22 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.
The Celtics won a Game 7 in both the Conference Semifinals (over the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks) and Conference Finals (over the top-seeded Miami Heat). Boston is the first team to do this since the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers. In addition, Ime Udoka is the first rookie NBA head coach to win multiple Game 7s.
Golden State rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga is the first player from the NBA G League Ignite program to reach the NBA Finals. Kuminga, a 19-year-old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, narrowly missed being named to the 2021-22 NBA All-Rookie Second Team. He has impressed with his eye-popping athleticism and spectacular finishes at the rim. Only two players have played in the NBA Finals at age 19 or younger: Darko Milicic (18) and Jonathan Bender (19). If Kuminga plays in this series, he would be the third-youngest player to appear in the NBA Finals.
Brad Stevens has Boston in the NBA Finals in his first year as its President of Basketball Operations. Stevens, who spent the previous eight seasons as the Celtics’ head coach, has made an immediate impact in his new position. He hired Ime Udoka as head coach. He reacquired forward-center Al Horford in the offseason and guard Derrick White and center Daniel Theis during the season. He also signed guard Marcus Smart and center Robert Williams III to contract extensions, solidifying Boston’s core group.
Deadline Difference Maker
Boston’s acquisition of guard Derrick White from the San Antonio Spurs at the trade deadline in February has paid off in a big way. White averaged 14.3 points in the final four games of the Eastern Conference Finals – a stretch that came just days after the birth of his first child, a boy. White took an unusual path to the NBA, which included three seasons of college basketball at a Division II school. He won an NBA G League championship before establishing himself in the NBA with San Antonio.
Thrill of the Chase
Chase Center in San Francisco will host the NBA Finals for the first time. The arena opened in 2019. Prior to that, the Warriors played 47 seasons in Oakland. Golden State has not lost at Chase Center in the 2022 NBA Playoffs (9-0).
Golden State has won at least one road game in an NBA-record 26 consecutive playoff series. The streak began in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs – the first playoff series that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green played together. Meanwhile, Boston is 7-2 on the road in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. The NBA record for most road wins in a single postseason is nine by the 1994-95 Houston Rockets.
Did You Know?
The Celtics are the only NBA team to have a winning record against the Warriors during Steve Kerr’s tenure as Golden State’s head coach, which began with the 2014-15 season. Boston is 9-7 against Golden State during that eight-season span. … On April 1, 2016, the Celtics snapped the Warriors’ NBA-record 54-game home winning streak in the regular season.
Golden State guard Klay Thompson needs two three-pointers to pass LeBron James (432) for second place in playoff history, trailing only teammate Stephen Curry (530).
Warriors Co-Executive Chairman & CEO Joe Lacob was a minority owner of the Celtics for five years (which included the 2008 NBA championship) before selling his stake to purchase the Warriors. … Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Celtics forward Grant Williams both grew up in the Charlotte area. … Golden State guard Damion Lee began his professional career with the Celtics’ NBA G League affiliate (Maine Red Claws) in the 2016-17 season. … Warriors radio analyst Jim Barnett was selected by Boston with the eighth pick of the 1966 NBA Draft and played his rookie season with the Celtics.
Twenty players selected to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team have played for the Celtics (the most for any team) and eight have played for the Warriors. Robert Parish is the only NBA 75th Anniversary Team member to play for both teams. Parish, a four-time NBA champion and the league’s career leader in games played, played his first four seasons with the Warriors before being traded to the Celtics.
- Celtics (20): Ray Allen, Nate Archibald, Dave Bing, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Pete Maravich, Bob McAdoo, Kevin McHale, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Parish, Gary Payton, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Bill Walton and Dominique Wilkins.
- Warriors (8): Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jerry Lucas Robert Parish and Nate Thurmond.
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