The upcoming NBA Finals matchup between the Celtics and Warriors feels like it’s been years in the making.
Golden State was a mainstay to the sport’s biggest stage from 2015-19, winning the title three times and losing in the championship round the other two years. In the Eastern Conference, Boston appeared in two conference finals during that span, falling short to LeBron James both times, and failed to capitalize with their talented roster in 2019.
After both teams dealt with the departures of star players and injuries (more so for Golden State than Boston), the stars finally aligned for the Celtics and Warriors to face off for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
A day after the Celtics won the Eastern Conference title over the Heat, the Warriors had their chance to give their opening thoughts on the matchup. Warriors star guard Steph Curry was complimentary of their Finals opponent and didn’t reveal too much of how he thinks the upcoming matchup will go.
“They’re obviously a great team. They’re in the Finals,” Curry told reporters Monday. “They’ve had their group together – have gone through a lot together the last four, five years. They had some success early and figured out how to sustain it and now they’re here on this stage. It’ll be an amazing test. They’ve got some guys playing at a really high level, they’re a very well-rounded team. They’ve got size. They’ve been well-tested this playoff run.
“We like the matchup in terms of just confidence going in, knowing that we can win but there’s obvious respect in terms of what they present as a team. [Jayson] tatum, [Jaylen] Brown, they’re the heads of the snake. Marcus Smart does what he does. Then, you got some vets. Obviously, Al Horford’s been in the league for a long time and this is his first Finals appearance. So, I’m sure they’re motivated just like we are and excited to get things going.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr focused on Smart, the Defensive Player of the Year, and compared him to one of the Warriors’ star players when he spoke with reporters on Monday.
“His strength and his anticipation, he’s got an incredible feel for the game at that end,” Kerr said of Smart. “He’s like the guard version of Draymond [Green]. He’s reading angles, he’s guarding all five positions, if he switches on to a five man, he’s so strong, he can hold them off. He’s quick enough to chase point guards around, big enough to guard wings so he can literally guard 1-5 in the modern game. He’s appropriately named, very smart player and really versatile and great, great defender.”
Smart’s defense could be the ultimate difference-maker in the Finals. In his eight-year career, Smart’s held Curry to 29 percent shooting from the field when he’s been the closest defender, according to Second Spectrum.
Curry had a relatively poor shooting performance in the first matchup between the Celtics and Warriors this season. While he scored 30 points, he shot just 8-of-21 from the field and 5-of-14 from deep, turning the ball over six times. In the March matchup, Curry scored three points on 1-of-4 shooting with four turnovers before leaving the game in the second quarter when Smart landed on his foot while diving for a loose ball.
But Curry had prior success against the Celtics. Just last season, Curry scored 47 points on 15-of-27 shooting in one of the games against Boston.
Curry’s poor shooting though against Smart is a good indication of the relative success the Celtics had had against the Warriors dating back to 2014-15, the first year Golden State won a title. Boston is 9-7 against the Kerr-coached Warriors, which is the best in the NBA. The Celtics had some memorable wins against the Warriors in that stretch, including in 2016 when they were the first team to defeat the Warriors at home all year, a season in which Golden State went 73-9. The Celtics defeated the Warriors at Oracle Arena (Golden State’s home until 2019) again in 2017, a championship season for the Warriors.
The teams split the two regular-season matchups, with Golden State winning in Boston in December and the Celtics returning the favor to the Warriors in March.
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