A Sophisticated And Punctual Preview Of The 2022 NBA Finals, For Basketball Idiots
5:41 PM EDT on June 2, 2022
Hello, casual basketball fan! Once again, the tides of basketball have delivered to us a pair of mighty contenders, who must face each other in the (not actually) sacred (pair of) Rectangle(s) of Testing (basketball courts are not called this) so that a mighty Champion may be determined. That's right: It's NBA Finals time.
Who are the contenders? What is their whole deal? What is the stuff that a casual basketball enthusiast should pretend to know about them when the subject comes up in workplaces or barrooms or Slack channels over the next couple of weeks? We assemble here today to answer these and other urgent questions, hopefully well in advance of the tipoff depending on how the next couple of hours of frantic typing and haphazard research go—to "pre"-"view" the matchup.
Below you will find frankly a lot more information than you deserve about each of the finalist teams and their important members and what you can expect to see in the series to come. It should shame you to receive such a bounty as this! You should apologize to me for your unworthiness! But I know better than to expect that. I know to expect a lot of complaining and crying about how this blog is "late" and "cursory at best" and "padded out with a lot of bullshit," and also about how I "clearly didn't even watch much basketball this season, or ever," and possibly even about how the "Finals actually started several hours or days ago," if it comes to that, which at this point it seems like it very well might. As if any of that even matters! As if!
Golden State Warriors
Hm. You must have mistakenly copy-pasted this from a years-old edition of this gimmick.
Excuse me, but no the hell I have not! In fact I only very briefly considered doing that. The Golden State Warriors have, in fact, returned to the NBA Finals, which they treated as a summer home for much of the last decade.
How did this happen?
It's very simple. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson returned to simultaneous good health and form for the first time in a couple of years. Thompson, you may recall, missed all of each of the past two seasons after tearing the ACL in his left knee in the sixth game of the 2019 Finals; Curry missed all but five games of the 2019-20 season with a broken hand; Green hasn't dealt with anything as serious as any of that, but anyway I said the important thing was all three of them being healthy and in good form at the same time, so get off my case.
OK, yes, fine: There is more to it than that. Waterbug third-year guard Jordan Poole blossomed into a fearless and occasionally terrifying third Splash Brother this season; in the first round of these playoffs, he at least as much as any other Warrior sent the Denver Nuggets packing. Andrew Wiggins flourished as a defensive stopper and release-valve scorer, put together the best all-around season of his career, and harassed Luka Doncic throughout the conference finals. The development of those two enabled the Warriors to adopt a truly scary neo-Death Lineup—Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, Green—that has mostly vaporized anybody who has dared step in front of it. Other Warriors—Kevon Looney and Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II and Jonathan Kuminga, and so on—uh, also did good stuff. Sure.
But the context for all of this is Golden State's golden trio. Poole spent the first two seasons of his career shuttling back and forth to the G League and not helping the depleted Warriors win very much. Wiggins had earned a reputation as one of the most disappointing NBA players in memory during his time in Minnesota, and hadn't done much to upend that perception in the Bay Area before playing alongside three motivated hall-of-famers freed him from the high usage and high expectations of his past and enabled him to settle in as a role player who made cool shit happen with his otherworldly athletic gifts in favorable situations. The nice thing about having a historically great core of players on a team is that everybody else is freed to overperform in a smaller role rather than being forced into underperforming in a large one.
That is to say: I like Jordan Poole a lot. I think he is extremely cool and fun. And I think that there are very high odds that within the next few years he will get a huge payday to go to someplace like Orlando or D.C. and shoot 38 percent from the floor on irrelevant 37-win teams for the prime years of his career. The Warriors are in the Finals because they have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
Well I guess that clears up the question of who the key guys are.
What will the Warriors need to do to win?
Boston is that rare and frightening type of team whose best lineups feature size, the ability to switch across a range of matchups on defense, and enough scoring punch that they generally can't be countered just by picking one guy to ignore until they're forced to substitute him out. It's always possible that the Warriors simply have enough shooting and floor spacing to overwhelm any opponent's advantages, but if they do not, then they will need to figure out how to rebound and protect the rim enough to stay afloat in an ugly defensive slog against a larger and generally more athletic foe. That is boring basketball-tactics stuff. I'm sorry. Pretend I said that they need to unleash some truly appalling farts.
Should I root for them?
Presumably if you are asking this question at this point in the discussion, then the simple fact of the words "Boston" and "Celtics" appearing above was not enough to settle the issue for you. In which case, you can go to hell!
It is amazing to me that the Warriors, after literally half a decade of consecutive repeat runs to the Finals (comprising—after back-of-napkin accounting for the added physical toll of playoff basketball and the fact that it happens at the end of the long and taxing regular season, when everybody is already exhausted—probably the equivalent of a whole extra season or more tacked onto the careers of the team's most important players), and then the departure of Kevin Durant and Thompson's major leg problems and all the ordinary erosion to be expected of NBA players in their 30s, are back in the Finals again. And not as some fluky nostalgia thing, either. These Warriors did not get more than the usual dispensation of luck along their route through the West. They're just ... great ... again ... and in largely the same ways they were before. That's amazing.
Even as a sour and awful hater most comfortable at all times rooting for whatever seems likeliest to supply me with a schadenfreude high, I find that I'm kind of excited by the possibility of seeing this once-in-a-lifetime group of players find and sustain the level of play that would grab them their fourth championship. Whenever their run definitively ends, whole generations might pass before anything all that much like it comes along again. Maybe I'm just not ready to begin that wait, yet!
What baffling, inexplicable, obviously self-destructive thing will Draymond Green do at an inopportune moment?
I think Draymond's testicle-smashing days are behind him, thankfully. He will follow a referee around the court for a full five minutes, furiously berating the official over a blocking foul call, while each member of the entire Golden State Warriors team and organization and fanbase takes a turn at trying to make him see the obvious pointlessness and folly of continuing to press the issue, and then he will get ejected, and then he will instantaneously become perfectly calm and even slightly amused. Then the Warriors will give up a 13-0 run in his absence and lose a game they should have won.
What is their deal?
The Celtics are extremely good. Perhaps that is not the most necessary thing to point out about a team playing in the NBA Finals; it is sort of implied, I guess, by the fact of that team's being in the NBA Finals. But still. After years of playing the role of the really talented team everybody expected to make a big step forward into championship contention, and then serially disappointing everybody by not making that big step forward, the Celtics pointedly did not blow things up and start over. Instead they got a new coach—Ime Udoka took over for Brad Stevens, who moved up to the front office—retooled their supporting cast a little bit, ate a little shit in the season's early going while the various parties got the hang of each other, and then went about figuring it all out. And here they are, having finally managed that last and longest step—and having done so while the key parties are still young enough for everybody to expect that they might make an annual habit of getting this far. That's cool. That's what all almost-contenders should aspire to do, instead of taking any disappointing finish as an excuse to hit the reset button.
The Celtics are big, and versatile, and athletic, and smart; they defend like demons; they have not one but two of perhaps the most valuable type of player in basketball, big wings who can score and make shit happen and defend across most plausible matchups, and who cannot be targeted and attacked in basically any way. The Celtics are reeeally good. But also, their key guys have played the equivalent of, like, a thousand more games than the Warriors in these playoffs: The Celtics had to survive two seven-game series to get here, real miserable grinding affairs against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat, two tough and physical opponents who made them earn the shit out of every bucket and rebound and trip to the free-throw line. That's both a validation of the program and also a reason to wonder about the team's fitness for a series against a fresher and more experienced opponent that has already been here five times and won three rings and will not even for a second be dazzled by the moment.
I suspect Celtics fans are not dwelling on all that, but rather are feeling happy to see their team's young cornerstone guys break through to the big stage, and excited to see what it will bring out of them, win or lose. Or rather I suspect that normal sports fans would be feeling that way. I suspect that actual Celtics fans are saying some intolerable shit about "Titletown USA" and Larry Bird right now, and that everybody else in the world is rolling their eyes and/or looking for a ledge to leap off of.
So, about those young cornerstone guys you mentioned.
I'm getting there! The young cornerstone guys are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the pair of big, athletic, splendidly gifted wings who can do all of the stuff.
I can't decide whether it's unfair to Tatum to treat them as a pair, when he certainly seems to be blossoming into an MVP-candidacy type of guy, or unfair to Brown to treat Tatum as the team's clear star when fans of probably like 28 of the league's 29 other teams would bite their own thumbs off to get either of them. I think where I land on the question, ultimately, is that this blog is already too long, it's already after 4:00 in the afternoon, and I do not have time to wrestle with the ethics of any writing choices between now and whenever I send this thing off to a very patient (and good-smelling! And widely liked and admired!) editor. Here are some videos of Tatum and Brown doing cool stuff!
Probably I should mention Marcus Smart, Boston's perennially infuriating guard who won his first Defensive Player of the Year Award this season. It seems kind of plain to me that this was a "give it to the best defender on the best defense, since his team isn't going to net any of the other big player awards" type of situation; Smart is a great defender but, like, the Celtics are a great defensive team from top to bottom in a way that, say, the Philadelphia 76ers were not whenever Joel Embiid wasn't a one-man wall for them. This is not especially relevant to an NBA Finals preview; I just like antagonizing the people of Boston.
What do they need to do to win?
The Celtics' challenge seems a little more straightforward to me, or maybe it just feels that way because I've been watching teams try to do that job against the Warriors in the postseason for most of the past 10 springtimes of my life. They have to contain Golden State's shooting and constant movement without stretching and warping their defense into inoperability. They have to have the patience and focus to pick out and attack Steph Curry (and probably Jordan Poole) when they have the ball, and to adapt to the many clever ways Golden State will make this difficult. They have to punish the Warriors for playing small lineups, just as they punished the Miami Heat for playing small lineups.
I think the Celtics can do that stuff. In fact, with apologies to the 2019 Raptors (who caught a severely depleted and fractious Warriors team that dissolved into a pile of shredded ligaments and tendons over the course of the series) and the 2016 Cavaliers (who had very little going for them once you got past LeBron James, who was at that time as great and dominant a player as modern basketball has seen), I think this Boston team is the most versatile and well-rounded opponent these Warriors ever have faced in a Finals series. They can do the stuff they need to do. On the other hand, the Warriors can do the stuff they need to do, also, and they have done what they needed to do to win a championship three times; these Celtics have never even been here before.
Should I root for them?
No. How dare you even ask me that.
(They're sharp and cohesive and young and mostly easy to like, and new to the scene; if they were not wearing Celtics uniforms and representing the hopes of some of the most exhausting sports fans in the world, they'd be very easy to adopt and root for as the hopeful underdogs taking on the established juggernaut. And it's not like the Warriors organization's preferred fans, the ones it moved across the Bay to better serve—cryptocurrency herbs and rich Silicon Valley creepers—are exactly sympathetic, either. Frankly I don't know how they can stand the sight of themselves in a mirror, if any of them even cast reflections. The fact of the matter is, there will be a lot of happy wieners and buttheads no matter who wins this series. Root for whomever the damn hell you want to!)
Who will win the 2022 NBA championship?
Oh, I'm sorry, we've run out of time. Thank you for dropping by!
You had time to be shitty about the various teams' fans, but not to predict a wi—
This blog is over.