It looks like a Western movie where all but 2 of the gunslingers have kissed the ground. It’s the dynastic Golden State Warriors gunning to reclaim the crown over the magical youth squad of the Boston Celtics. It’s the juggernaut outside-and-in offense of the Warriors against the no-nonsense stonewall defense of the Celtics. It’s the veteran coaching chops of the celebrated multi-player-and-coach champion, the Warriors’ bench wizard with the Midas touch, Steve Kerr; versus that little-known journeyman-player and first-time Celtics coach, Ime Udoka. It’s the Dubs’ vets versus the Çelts’ upstarts. It’s the West’s speed versus the East’s precision. It’s a battle of contrasting styles, as this year’s NBA season reaches its climax. It’s that and more as cage fans and futurists from across the globe hedge their bets. It’s showtime, gentlemen, as the glitz, the glam and the glory of this year’s NBA Finals unfold before our basketball-frenzied eyes.
On paper, the Golden State Warriors are obviously the heavy favorites to regain the coveted NBA crown. They have the tried and tested triumvirate of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Plus they have coach Kerr upping the ante with his extensive championship experience. They have the homecourt advantage, and have seemingly acquired a cloak of invincibility in winning all their home games so far in this year’s playoffs. They have the talent, they have the experience, they have the homecourt advantage. On top of all that, the Warriors will be playing in their 6th NBA Finals over the past 8 years. It looks like the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the Warriors, arguably this era’s most celebrated team.
Except that the Celtics just don’t care about all these credentials.
In a stunning reversal of roles, the Celtics displayed their own uncharacteristic offensive audacity and stopped the Warriors’ vaunted transition game. Trailing by 12 entering the 4th quarter, the Celtics dropped a 40-16 bomb on a bewildered Warriors squad to win pulling away 120-108. During that period, the Celts outshot the Warriors with an incredible 9 out of 12 treys, elite numbers that normally belong to the Warriors. The Celts not only were putting their offensive prowess on full display, even coming up with an incredible 17-0 run midway the fateful quarter; they were also consistent in clamping down hard on the defense. What made the offensive run more surprising was that Jayson Tatum was struggling, and was instead contributing in the assists stats with 13. That said, the Celts were led by that Celtic returnee Al Horford (26 points), Jaylen Brown (24), Derrick White (21) and Marcus Smart (18).
The Celtics are over-achieving this year. They were not rated highly at the start, and were thought to be a superstar away from being in contention for the crown. Their line-up was not as star-studded as before, when the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward led the team. But they dug in, and relied more on their defense to reach the playoffs. Having demolished the pre-regular season faves Brooklyn Nets – with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on board – in the 1st round of the playoffs, they then came from behind to nip the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led defending champs, Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3. And in the Eastern Conference Finals, they did another Houdini act with another come-from-behind 4-3 win over the top-rated Miami Heat. These heavyweight bouts – against the Nets, the Bucks and the Heat – were clearly character-building events that have toughened the Celtics. These incredulous wins have made the Celtics believers in their own abilities to weather all adversities. Henceforth, they will no longer be intimidated by any opposition. They will stick together as a team. They will play cool, knowing that – if they continue to trust each other – they have what it takes to get over the proverbial hump.
Under Coach Udoka, they have developed a solid defensive mindset, and their offensive creativity is just beginning to manifest itself. Aside from the team’s vets Tatum, Brown and Smart, guys like the veteran Al Horford, new-acquisition Derrick White, and the Williams bruisers, Robert and Grant are stepping up. Plus the pesky Peyton Pritchard. Anyone of them can explode a bomb anytime to cause more problems for the Warriors’ defense.
But the Warriors are not taking this first playoff home loss for granted. With Curry, Thompson, Green, coach Kerr and the comebacking Andre Igoudala – himself a Finals MVP a few years back – they have tons of championship experience to rely on. They should be able to find a way to solve the Celtics’ defensive riddle. They also have immensely greater firepower available in all-star Andrew Wiggins, the upcoming Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Otto Porter Jr and Gary Payton Jr. But the key stat in their Game 1 loss was their failure to contain the Celtic offense in the last quarter. Once the Celts scored, the small-balling Dubs would lose their speed in transition, which would then stymie their offensive flow. Certainly, that 40-16 last quarter anomaly is uncharacteristic of a veteran team like the Warriors.
The Celtics are a pleasant surprise with their 1-0 series lead. They have now acquired an uncanny belief in themselves, not just as individuals who can bring in the big buckets and bang bodies with the best of them, but as a team. Here’s the thing. With each game, they are gaining more and more confidence in themselves. What makes them scary is that Jayson Tatum, their main man, was not even a party to the offensive uprising in that fateful 4th stanza. What makes them even more scary is that they did it in the Warriors’ homecourt at the Chase Center Arena in San Francisco, consequently taking away the Dubs’ precious homecourt advantage.
The Celtics’ saga this year will be a great study for cage fanatics. It is a story of a team of lesser lights. Individually, their names may not be as renowned as that of Curry, Thompson, Green or even Coach Kerr; but as a team, they have shown that they can be far better TOGETHER.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtsey of FirstPost; other photos courtesy of Celtics Blog, AS USA, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, Yahoo! Sports, The Boston Globe, The Daily Hindustan News, ABS-CBN News, NBA.com, The Wall street journal, MARCA, DraftKings Nation, Bloomberg.com, Dallas Morning News, Hardwood Houdini, and Golden State of Mind.