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'Battle of wills and strategy': For the first time in 12 years, Celtics head to NBA Finals

Al Horford and the Boston Celtics will take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals beginning Thursday, June 11, 2022.
Erik Drost
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Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/edrost88
Al Horford and the Boston Celtics will take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals beginning Thursday night.

The NBA Finals begin Thursday night as the Boston Celtics take on the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.

It's the Celtics' first trip to the finals since 2010. The Warriors have now been to the finals six times since then.

Golden State has home-court advantage this year. Brian Robb, who covers the Celtics for MassLive, said that usually has a "huge impact" in the playoffs.

Brian Robb, MassLive: Just for the fans and the energy that especially teams with fan bases like Boston and Golden State would have. But for the Celtics, home-court advantage has not been a good thing during this postseason. They've lost more games against the Heat and the Bucks at home than they won in these last two rounds.

They've been a terrific road team all year. So it hasn't dissuaded them. But if you look at history, the answer is yes, [home-court advantage matters]. But just looking at these two teams specifically, they have the experience in this, the track record on the road this regular season where it might not be as much of an impact as you'd think.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Well, maybe it's a good thing that they're starting out in San Francisco then.

The pressure is on them from that standpoint. They're expected to lose those first two games. So if they can steal one out there, then things kind of shift in their favor.

The Celtics have had problems putting teams away late in games. They blew a lead late in Game 6 against the Heat and then again nearly in Game 7. How big of a problem is that going to be against a far superior Warriors team?

It certainly could be this team's Achilles' heel against a team that has the amount of experience in big moments like Golden State. I mean, they've obviously won multiple titles. They have a couple of the most clutch players, I'd say, in recent NBA memory, between Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

And the Celtics — for all their impressive feats during their second-half turnaround — they keep running into these spots throughout the postseason, whether it was against the Bucks or the Heat, like you mentioned, where things kind of come close to unraveling late.

So they're not going to be able to get away with that as much against the superior talent of the Warriors. Particularly on the offensive end, they just have to be much more organized in those big moments, as opposed to just trying to run out the clock and run out of the game, which is not going to work against a team like Golden State.

Can you give me a sense as to the overall strength of the Celtics roster right now?

I think their main strength comes on the defensive end. They have had the top defense in the NBA this year, and what makes them especially good on that front is that they're very versatile. They are able to have guys on the floor like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, who can guard multiple different players on the other team without giving up too much in terms of size or speed. And that's pretty unique in the NBA and that makes it pretty tough to score against them.

And so, they can play big if they want, with Al Horford and Rob Williams, a couple of true centers in their front court, or they can also downsize against smaller teams like Golden State and play a smaller player like Derrick White coming off the bench with those guys I mentioned.

So the fact that they can do it defensively in a bunch of different ways is going to be needed in this series to win. But it's something that most teams in the NBA just aren't built to do.

But aren't the Warriors themselves pretty awesome at defense?

They are! That is the scary part about them right now, is that they kind of built themselves into a dynasty, earlier this past decade, based on their offense and the shooting from Curry and Thompson and Kevin Durant when he was there.

Now, though, they're better on defense than they are on offense. And that is a tribute [to] some new personnel. Draymond Green has always been a great defender, but Andrew Wiggins, who they've gotten in the last couple of years, has really come around on that front. They've had some valuable bench guys as well, and then Curry and Thompson are just good team defenders that kind of buy in there.

So the fact that they can lean on their defense to win games when shots aren't falling, makes this an intriguing matchup to watch because you expect both teams can play very well on both sides of the ball. So it's going to be kind of a battle of wills and strategy on that front to see who gets the upper hand.

Not only is game play sort of key in the finals, but officiating has an awful lot to do with how those games turn out, too. Is that a concern at this point?

You hope it's not, because that storyline can quickly take over a series. The Celtics were kind of a victim of some of that, in Game 6, against the Heat when they lost at home. And then the NBA announced after that game that the refs had screwed up six calls in the last two minutes of the game of a very close game.

So you certainly have to worry about, from a Celtics standpoint, of how things are going to be officiated when you're guarding defensively. If they're going to get more leeway from the officials in terms of being physical with the players, or if they're calling things tighter, and then that at that point you have to adjust, and make sure that you're not sending the Warriors to the free-throw line time and time again when they have, you know, 90% free throw shooters like Klay Thompson and Curry, that can really punish you there.

It's certainly something that both teams are going to be aware of throughout the series, and it's going to change night to night. There's not going to be consistency there. And so that's something that the coaching staffs and the players are going to be very much aware of.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.