Why Curry, the Warriors will beat Boston in the NBA Finals

I hate when pundits and prognosticators pick a team to win a series in seven games.

They might as well not make a prediction. In such a scenario, there’s nothing between the teams, meaning there’s effectively no liability if the predictor thing the wrong team.

So I’m picking the Warriors to win the NBA Finals over the Boston Celtics… in seven games.

Hold on! Let me explain! I swear this isn’t a cop-out.

I’ve long held that Boston is the worst possible NBA Finals matchup for the Warriors. My gut reaction to this possible showdown — my take before I re-watched a dozen games and spent hours looking at various spreadsheets — was Boston in 6.

I’ll explain the ins and outs of why (yet again) in a moment.

But I can’t overlook the last two games of Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals win over the Miami Heat.

Boston was begging Miami to take away the burden of victory. They choked away Game 6 and nearly had an epic collapse at the end of Game 7.

Temperament is a huge factor in the postseason, and if Boston was cracking in the conference Finals, what will happen when they reach the big show, where no one on their team has played a single game?

There are so many good reasons to pick Boston in this series. Too many to overlook.

And the simplistic way to balance these factors is to put it all on the line in a winner-take-all game.

Now that’s a spot where temperament is important. One could even alleviate that “Championship DNA” would be necessary to win in a Game 7.

Do the Warriors have any of that?

Yes, the Warriors in 7 is the pick. Their experience puts them over.

But that’s the easy way of looking at it. Here’s the complicated one:

No team in the NBA switches on defense quite like the Celtics.

If you’re a Warriors fan who enjoys the chess match of basketball, that sentence should rattle you to your core.

Boston is long, strong, smart (no pun intended), and willing to mix and match. Most importantly, they’re sticky. That style of defense is built to stymie the Warriors’ motion offense, which uses off-ball screens and cuts to create open looks.

Two of the Warriors’ greatest foils during their dynastic run—the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets—have used switch-everything defenses to slow down Golden State. The Cavs even won a series against the Dubs, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals — a turnaround that had many factors but coincided, directly, with Cleveland coach Ty Lue deciding to throw caution to the wind and embrace complete switching. That’s how you end up with Kevin Love getting the big stop on Steph Curry (and his balky knee) in Game 7 of that series.

The Warriors have shown the ability to score at all three levels — paint, mid-range, and beyond the arc — this postseason, but Boston has proven itself to be the only team in the league that can defend at a high level at all three of those levels.

A huge factor in this series will be Boston’s rim protection. The Warriors didn’t face a lick of it against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals — when they weren’t making shots they could go to the hoop with impunity. But we saw how Memphis’ big men could affect the Dubs’ attack in the prior round. It was a problem.

Al Horford and the Celtics wings do a really good job of protecting the rim for non-traditional paint protectors, but if Boston has Robert Williams III — the Timelord — in the paint, their defense goes from good to great.

After the All-Star Game, when the Celtics really started to roll, Williams’ rim protection was a level beyond elite. Teams shot 17 percent worse from 6 feet and in when he was on the floor, and nearly 20 percent worse from inside of 10 feet.

Williams in the paint turned the highest-percentage shots on the floor into attempts that go in well less than half the time. That’s insanity.

But Williams has a sore left knee that he’s fought with all postseason and will certainly be dealing with come the Finals. He only played 15 relatively ineffective minutes in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

With Boston’s tenacity on the perimeter and length in the mid-range, having Williams’ 7-foot-6 wingspan at the basket will tell us so much of what will happen in this series.

Idealism v. pragmatism

The Celtics have a defense built to frustrate and perhaps even negate the Warriors’ offensive system.

So how does Golden State counter?

There are some motion sets that could give Golden State better chances to break free — double-screens, post-ups, and slips — but those can only go so far.

No, the way to counter a switch-everything defense with perimeter length is to weaponize it by hunting matchups on the perimeter.

We saw this in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami runs a motion offense not too dissimilar to the Warriors’.

They eventually just gave the ball to Jimmy Butler and asked him to take the team over the finish line. He nearly did it.

For the Warriors, this means running a high pick-and-roll and isolation sets for Steph Curry and Jordan Poole. And that’s not Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

To be fair to Kerr, though, the Warriors have been more Currycentric this postseason.

In all, 44 percent of Curry’s usage this postseason has been as a pick-and-roll ball-handler or in isolation. That’s 167 possessions in total.

The Warriors have scored 167 points on those possessions.

A point per possession is pretty good when you compare it to Luka Dončić, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum — other give-me-the-ball-and-get-outta-my-way stars. But how much of that output has come because a Curry-led offense is a change-up to the Warriors’ motion-offense fastball?

Is that changeup good enough to become the dominant pitch?

The Warriors love it when other teams allow one player to be the offense. Less than one point per possession has massive defensive win. But there’s an ideology here, too: collectivism is part of Golden State’s tactical DNA — Kerr truly believes that running a system for the whole team (with Curry’s gravity, of course) makes for a better offense and operation.

The Warriors’ success makes it hard to argue that he’s wrong.

But will that idealism carry the day in the Finals or will the necessary pragmatism take over?

It’s a fluid situation. Perhaps Strength In Numbers can win against Boston. Maybe only Poole runs pick-and-roll to start. But bon’t be surprised if Kerr waits until the Warriors trail in the series to go to the offensive style that is proven to give Golden State the best chance to beat Boston’s defense.

Old clothes die hard.

The Rotation

Leave a Comment