Why the Warriors Celtics Dominated in the Finals

Andrew Wiggins helped Jayson keep Tatum at bay.

Andrew Wiggins helped Jayson keep Tatum at bay.
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Sometimes it just feels good to be right. After I announced that before the NBA Finals started, the Boston Celtics had zero chance against the Golden State Warriors, the Dubs defeated the Celtics by double digits in Game 6 to end the series 4-2. Many on the internet rebuked this bold proclamation based on the Cinderella run the Celts were on at the time. Some accepted the reflexive response of the Celtics’ Game 1 miracle game (more on that later). So how have so many people been duped inside and outside of TD Garden? Let’s take another look at the points made in that article that were partially confused behind a hyperbolic headline.

The Celtics struggled to score

The first point was how dominant an attacking juggernaut the Warriors are now that they are at full strength. It also outlined the difficulties the Celtics had in scoring against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the ECF, the Celtics averaged 105 points per game. This was well below 110, a game they averaged during the regular season, which was good for 15th best in the league.

They fared even worse against the Warriors, failing to break the 100 in four out of six games. The anemia I described reared its ugly head against the No. 2 ranked Warriors defense. This is 2022. You will not be able to win a Finals series without being able to break 100 points per game. In the two games they did, they scored 116 in Game 3 and then 120 in their Game 1 wonder game. On the other hand, the Warriors scored over 100 per game, beating the Celtics by double digits in all four wins.

The Rise of Andrew Wiggins

When Steve Kerr came in on Andre Iguodala at the end of the match as a sign of respect for this old gray vet, Iggy hugged Andrew Wiggins with laser-focused intensity. Iggy groomed Wiggins as the successor to his Finals role in 2015. Iguodala won the Finals MVP that year against the Cleveland Cavaliers through clutch shooting and lockdown defense. Sounds familiar?

As pointed out in the first article, Wiggins made Jayson Tatum’s life hell and forced him into one of the worst Finals appearances for a star in recent NBA history. But Wiggins became an offensive weapon in its own right, averaging 18 ppg and hitting clutch buckets in their Game 4 win to even the series. And while Wiggins didn’t win the Finals MVP like Iguodala did, there was definitely a case he should have had. Just look at Tatum’s shooting stats for the final, 36.7 percent of the field.

Ime Udoka’s inexperience

Did the Warriors haters believe that a novice head coach could beat a three-time champion and the best 15 best coach of all time? That’s serious self-belief. The original article gave Udoka all his flowers to completely turn the Celtics’ fortunes around. But to say that overperformance would extend to beating one of the greatest teams of all time? Come on.

Udoka instilled a will to win in the Celts that hadn’t been seen since the 2008 squad. They proved that they could take a beating and get up again and again. But after Game 4 collapsed, he often looked like a deer in the headlights. His team continued to play sloppy, revenue-prone basketball. And he couldn’t adjust his defenses to keep the Warriors from attacking the paint at will. As a result, the Celtics often rode on Tatum’s icy hand when Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart were the better options.

Kerr, on the other hand, has been here before. He knows what it takes to win in the final and what it takes to lose. This was his sixth final, where he won four championships, two with Kevin Durant and two without. If Kerr could devise a plot against Lebron James, he would surely know how to defeat Tatum. And he did.

Steph Curry vs Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year this season, the first guard to do so since Gary “The Glove” Payton. He built an impressive resume in this playoff run by putting pressure on Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry. But Steph Curry is a different beast. Smart met Curry when the Splash Brother put on its best playoff show, averaging 25.9 in the first three rounds.

Against Smart, Curry upped the ante, averaging a whopping 31.2 ppg en route to winning the Finals MVP. Smart had no answer for Curry. He shot 43.7 percent from three in the final and 48 percent from the field and provided six rebounds and five assists per game. Curry’s 31.2 ppg would be a career best in the final. Without taking anything from Smart, Curry showed that he is in a different league from the other guards the DPOY faced in these playoffs. Curry made an argument for being in the top 20 of all time after this run. That Curry has achieved this against a Defensive Player of the Year only strengthens his case.

The comeback story

The Warriors’ return to glory was great to watch. They’ve gone from villain to underdog in just three seasons. Once Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn, the Warriors had to find themselves again. They were redecorated and organically rebuilt. The three major draft picks of the past two years (James Wiseman, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga) barely made it to these finals. Those three will play a more significant role going forward, keeping the Dubs in the fray as long as Curry’s jersey stays wet.

Not to mention Wiggins is only 27 and Jordan Poole is 22. But before the Warriors wanted to reclaim their crown, they had to go through shit first. It’s a wonder Thompson has regained some sense of himself after a debilitating ACL injury that kept him sidelined for more than two years, seeing action after 941 days of recovery. The two seasons after their appearance in the 2019 final, they went 15 -50 and 39 -33. Those two brutal years humbled a squad that had just been named one of the greatest. That humility seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered, as the Warriors used their underdog status to keep their foot on the gas to win the championship.

The Warriors’ Experience

The original article stated: “The Warriors have three Hall-of-Famers at their disposal, a deep bench full of two-way studs, a rising star in Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, who is experiencing a career renaissance after limiting Luka Dončić in the Western Conference final.” While it’s an obvious observation, it remains a rock solid argument as to why the Celtics were about to face their most pivotal test yet.

The core of this team

Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have spent five finals in the trenches together, experiencing the highest and lowest lows.

The Celtics’ big three, Tatum, Brown and Smart, have also been together for a while, but this was their first final. The pressure is immense. Not only for the players, but also for the technical staff. The big three of the Warriors trust their coach and vice versa. These Warriors remained calm and collected even after being punched in the mouth during Game 1. The Finals pressure cooker turned the Celtics into turnover machines. Heading into Game 6, the Celtics had a 16.3 percent turnover rate in the Finals. The Houston Rockets had the worst turnover of the regular season at 16.2 percent. Many of those turnovers were unforced errors. Essentially they were caused by jitters – experience matters.

Game 1 coincidence has never been more apparent, which NBA lemmings were prone to reactionary hottakes. Between Celtics bench reserves Al Horford and Derrick White, the two hit 11 threes on 11-16 combined firing to lead a stunning rally in the fourth quarter. Of course, those who have been watching basketball for a while know that miracles are performed from time to time by supporting players. But mostly it’s just feel-good stories, not a sustainability paradigm. Need proof?

In the next game, Horford scored two runs. After his sweltering shootout, White would disappear back into the air, as he had a snappy 7.6 points for the other five games of the final. Horford would only score two more double digits, 11 points in Game 3 and 19 points in Game 6. If the Celtics won the Finals, that 3-point barrage would have to come from Brown, Smart or Tatum. †

Unfortunately, during that same match, Tatum had 12 points to 1-5 out of 3. Tatum’s game 1 would be a more accurate sign of things to come than Horford and White’s. Had the Celtics not had such a miracle play from two of their most inconsistent benchers, the Warriors would have won Game 1 and this series would have ended where it should have been: 4-1.

I think that’s why they call it ‘the luck of the Irish’. But unfortunately that luck ran out against experience and championship courage.