It took seven games, but the Celtics punched their ticket to the NBA Finals Sunday night with a 100-96 win over Miami.
They’ll have just three days off before Game 1 of the Finals tips off Thursday evening in San Francisco against the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.
Here are some things to know about the Warriors:
1. They have been here before.
The Celtics are headed to their first NBA Finals since 2010, but the Warriors are extremely familiar with this stage. Coach Steve Kerr and the core trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are off to their sixth NBA Finals over the past eight years — the first group to accomplish such a feat since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 90′s.
The Warriors won the championship in 2015, 2017, and 2018.
“Like I’ve said over and over again, I’m going to keep saying it: No one has proven that they can move us off that spot,” Green said. “That’s the mind-set we come into this thing with. We understand what it takes to win a championship.”
The Warriors lost to Cleveland in the Finals in 2016, when LeBron James and the Cavs overcame a 3-1 series deficit, and to Toronto in 2019, when Kevin Durant tore his Achilles’ and Thompson tore his left ACL. They then missed the playoffs in 2020, when Thompson tore his Achilles’ in the preseason and Curry broke his hand, and again in 2021, when they lost to Memphis in the play-in game.
Now, with a fully healthy squad, they’re back.
“We never lost the faith, but you understand how hard of a process it was going to be to climb the mountain again,” Curry said. “I think internally we are all extremely proud of what it took to get back here. It’s definitely sweet based on what we went through.”
2. They have key contributors outside of their stars.
Drafting guard Jordan Poole and trading for forward Andrew Wiggins are two key personnel decisions that paid off for the Warriors following Durant’s departure. Curry, Thompson, and Green are the nucleus, but Poole and Wiggins have played big minutes this postseason.
Poole, selected 28th overall in 2019, stepped up in the starting lineup when Curry was out with a sprained ligament in his foot to close the regular season. Even with Curry back, Poole has averaged 30 minutes per game off the bench during the playoffs. He ranks third on the team in scoring, behind Curry and Thompson, averaging 18.4 points on 12 shots per game.
Wiggins, meanwhile, has emerged as a defensive stopper. Against Dallas in the Western Conference finals, he was often the primary defender on Luka Dončić. In that five-game series, according to the NBA’s matchup data, Dončić made 23 of his 48 field goal attempts (47.9 percent) and committed 14 turnovers when defended by Wiggins. Stopping Dončić is nearly impossible, but Wiggins certainly made things difficult, closely contesting his shots and occasionally hounding him with full-court pressure.
Wiggins contributes offensively, too, averaging 15.8 points per game. His cumulative individual plus-minus of plus-111 is the fourth-best figure in the league this postseason.
“You can’t teach that athleticism,” Thompson said after Game 1. “You can’t teach that length. You can’t teach his timing. I’m just happy the world is getting to see who he really is, and that’s an incredible wing player, and he will be like this for the next 10 years.”
Wiggins’s assignment against Boston likely will be Jayson Tatum.
The Warriors are also hoping to welcome back guard Gary Payton II to their rotation. Payton has been sidelined since fracturing his left elbow in Game 2 of the conference semifinals on May 3. Prior to the injury, he averaged 18 minutes per game, playing an important defensive role. His nickname, “Young Glove,” takes after his father.
3. Offense is still Golden State’s forte.
Although the Warriors are not the same offensive juggernaut as they were with Durant, they still have the NBA’s best offensive rating (116.1) during the playoffs. They sit atop the league in both average points per game (114.5) and assists per game (28.3) this postseason, and 66.9 percent of their field goals are assisted, which speaks to their spectacular ball movement.
“When Kevin was here, we were like an unstoppable force,” Thompson said. “I think now we have to be more meticulous, obviously, with our offense and our defense because we don’t have as much leeway without him.”
Curry is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 25.9 points per game. He and Thompson are still living up to their “Splash Brothers” nickname, as the pair is attempting almost 20 shots from behind the arc per game this postseason.
On the other end of the floor, Golden State’s defense (111th) ranks sixth. Poole is the player Boston will want to exploit. Payton’s potential return will be beneficial. The same goes for veteran Andre Iguodala, who has been sidelined with a disk injury in his neck, and Otto Porter Jr., who has missed two games with a foot injury.
4. These teams are familiar with one another.
Even though they are in opposing conferences, there is a level of familiarity between the Celtics and Warriors.
Kerr was an assistant coach for Team USA for five years before recently getting promoted to head coach. He worked with Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White during the 2019 FIBA World Cup and with Tatum during the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Green was a teammate of Tatum when Team USA won gold in 2020.
Over the past four years, the Celtics and Warriors have met eight times in the regular season. Boston is 6-2, losing in December 2021 (111-107) and January 2019 (115-111).
When the two teams met in March this year, Smart dived for a loose ball and ultimately injured Curry, sidelining him for multiple weeks. Kerr confronted Smart on the sidelines.
“I thought it was a dangerous play, and I let him know,” Kerr said.
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- How it happened: Celtics fend off Heat in Game 7, 100-96, to advance to NBA Finals for first time since 2010
- Instant analysis: Celtics claw out a Game 7 they never trailed, and other observations
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- Celtics-Warriors NBA Finals series tips off Thursday in San Francisco; see the schedule
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- Jimmy Butler nearly carried the Heat to the NBA Finals, but can’t deny it: Celtics ‘deserve the win’