The matchup is set for the 2022 NBA Finals, and despite the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks failing to make a return to the NBA’s biggest stage, as well as Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets failing to live up to expectations, the bracket gave us a matchup of two of the best teams the league has to offer: the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.

Both teams jostled in the standings for the top seed in their respective conferences, with Boston ultimately finishing second in the Eastern Conference and Golden State finishing third in the Western Conference. Each team beat three solid championship contenders, with the Celtics facing perhaps a tougher gauntlet, in order to reach the final round of the postseason.

The Warriors are making their first trip back to the Finals since 2019, their final in an era of five straight trips that resulted in three NBA Championships. The core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and head coach Steve Kerr will be seeking their fourth NBA Finals win in eight seasons, attempting to extend what can already be considered a dynasty. For superstar Steph Curry, a fourth ring would elevate the sharp-shooting point guard. Only 27 players in NBA history have won four or more championships, and Curry (along with Thompson and Green) would tie the likes of LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal with their fourth ring.

But just because the Warriors have experience on the NBA’s biggest stage doesn’t mean their fourth championship in eight seasons will come easy. Budding superstar Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics have been an NBA Finals dream-killer for three straight rounds in the postseason. Boston dashed the championship aspirations of a Brooklyn Nets team with a healthy Kevin Durant and an available Kyrie Irving: sweeping them in quick fashion. The Celtics then ended a bid by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to win back-to-back NBA Finals, dispatching the defending champions in seven games. Most recently, the Celtics outlasted Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference Champions of 2020, in another seven-game bout.

For the Celtics, raising the banner for the 18th time might not seem like the biggest underdog story, but after three Eastern Conference Finals losses in the last six seasons, breaking through to the Championship stage is a big moment for Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and the Celtics.

NBA Finals Schedule

Photo: Chase Center.com

The 2022 NBA Finals will kick off on Thursday, June 2, 2022 at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT. The Warriors hold homecourt advantage and will host Games 1 and 2 after finishing the regular season with a 53-29 record, two games better than Boston’s 51-31 record.

There will be at least two days between each game besides Games 3 and 4 in Boston.

Game 1: Thursday, June 2, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT at Chase Center

Game 2: Sunday, June 5, 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT at Chase Center

Game 3: Wednesday, June 8, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT at TD Garden

Game 4: Friday, June 10, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT at TD Garden

Game 5*: Monday, June 13, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT at Chase Center

Game 6*: Thursday, June 16, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT at TD Garden

Game 7*: Sunday, June 19, 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT at Chase Center

*Games 5-7 if necessary

Betting Odds

The Golden State Warriors (-150) are slightly favored to win the 2022 NBA Finals, but the Boston Celtics (+130) aren’t a big underdog. Oddsmakers at PointsBet see a six (+180) or seven-game series (+160) as the most likely series length with a short five (+310) or four-game series (+900) much less likely.

Golden State over Boston in seven games (+300) is the most likely scenario per oddsmakers, with a Celtics sweep over the Warriors presenting the longest odds (+2000.)

Stephen Curry is favored to win NBA Finals MVP (+120) despite never winning the award in three career Championship wins. Jayson Tatum leads as the most likely Celtics player (+175) to win the award.

Preview

Boston and Golden State split their regular season series in 2021-22, with each team winning on the road. The Warriors edged the Celtics 111-107 behind 30 points from Curry and 27 points from Andrew Wiggins on December 17 in Boston, before Klay Thompson had returned to the court. Boston prevailed most recently, downing Golden State 110-88 on a night where Curry only scored three points in 14 minutes on the court.

Those two games don’t paint too much of a picture of how this series will play out, but if you zoom out and look at the last seven seasons, the Celtics are the only team in the NBA with a winning record (9-5) against the Warriors.

The Warriors are a scary team: Curry can shoot from anywhere within half court at will, Thompson can heat up in an instant, Draymond Green still impacts the game whenever he’s on the court, and Andrew Wiggins, while not perfect, can score in a variety of ways. Between their personnel and their championship experience, it’s easy to see why the Warriors are favored in this series.

But Golden State isn’t favored by much, and the biggest thing to remember is that this is not the same Warriors team that won three championships and went to five NBA Finals. Yes, there’s a ton of overlap with those teams, but this isn’t the 73-9 Warriors. This isn’t the cheat code-Kevin Durant Warriors. Golden State’s path to the Finals was challenging, but nowhere near as daunting as Boston’s.

Despite possessing back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets never really posed a threat to the Warriors. The second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies were giving Golden State more trouble, but after Ja Morant went down, the Warriors were able to seal the deal in six games. The Dallas Mavericks relied too heavily on Luka Doncic’s heroics to push Golden State past five games in the Conference Finals.

We already ran down the Celtics gauntlet run earlier, but to quickly recap:

  • Swept Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and a championship-favorite Brooklyn Nets team
  • Outdueled Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks
  • Outlasted Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, the 2020 Eatsern Confernce Champions

Obviously you can only play the team in front of you, so the Warriors shouldn’t be slighted, but Boston’s path to the 2022 NBA Finals required more incredible play on a consistent basis.

The Celtics can beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals, especially if they do the following:

  • Don’t fall behind in the series early: While Boston has shown resilience in their last two seven-game series, coming back from down 1-0 and 3-2 against Miami, Golden State isn’t the kind of team you want to give a lead to. The Warriors are more dangerous when playing from ahead, and their experience on this stage would make holding a series lead a priority for Golden State (in other words, I’m sure they’ve learned from their 3-1 collapse to Cleveland.)
  • Get Al Horford and the bigs involved: Golden State has never been the toughest team on the interior, so Boston absolutely needs to exploit that with Al Horford and Robert Williams. Bonus points for getting Draymond Green and Kevin Looney in foul trouble.
  • Don’t overextend to guard the hot hand: Containing Curry will likely be a cornerstone of Boston’s defensive game plan. Even if Marcus Smart and the Celtics can do so successfully, new problems could arise: Thompson, Wiggins, or Jordan Poole would get hot. My advice may seem counterintuitive, but Boston should not overcompensate to cover a red-hot Warriors player. Doing so opens the door for even more players to get hot, and that snowballs in to a Golden State offense that becomes essentially unstoppable.

Besides NBA Finals experience and general star power, the Warriors also benefit from more time off after eliminating the Mavericks in five games during the Western Conference Finals. The Celtics will have four days from Sunday’s Game 7 win over the Heat to Thursday’s Game 1 in San Francisco, California.

Prediction

Photo: NBC Sports Boston

Above all, I predict an NBA Finals that won’t get exactly as expected. Both teams rely heavily on their starting lineups, especially compared to last year’s matchup of the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. This could result in some top-heavy play, games decided by one or two players going off, and also the possibility for one injury to completely shift the series.

I think Boston can leave the West Coast with a 1-1 split, perhaps taking Game 2 after Golden State takes a relatively easy Game 1 win. The Celtics will win Game 3 in Boston, but the Warriors will take Game 4 to keep the series tied at 2-2. At this point, as cliché as it sounds, Game 5 would be absolutely pivotal. I don’t think either team will come back from a 3-2 deficit in this series: not because they can’t, but because neither team will lose to games in a row with the NBA Finals on the line.

In this scenario, the Game 5 winner is likely the series winner. I’m picking Boston in Game 5, on the road, and then the Celtics again to finish things off in Game 6.

Jayson Tatum would almost certainly be the NBA Finals MVP if the Celtics win, unless Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, or Al Horford make some serious series-altering plays.

Boston Celtics win in six games, Jayson Tatum named Finals MVP

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Header Photo: Harry How/Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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