The 2022 NBA Finals matchup is set. The Golden State Warriors will represent the West while the Boston Celtics come out of the East. This matchup pits the electric offensive firepower of the Warriors against what has arguably been the best defense of the entire playoffs in Boston. Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, and Klay Thompson compose the best offensive backcourt in the NBA today, while Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum have an argument for being the best two-way trio in the NBA today. The storylines are endless.
So why not add one more hypothetical storyline while we’re at it?
In this preview, we’re taking a step back from the reality of the sports world, and imagining the chaos that would ensue if each of these two Finals teams were allowed to recruit one player from every playoff team they’ve beaten along the way – three additional players in total.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors boast some of the best offensive weapons in the NBA today, allowing them to achieve a playoff best 116.1 Offensive Rating (ORTG). For reference, Boston is currently 8th among the 16 playoff teams with an ORTG of 111.8.
A big part of their scoring prowess comes from their ability to move without the ball so well. Draymond Green is an elite passer from the power forward/center position. This has allowed offensive-minded players like Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins to work their way into open space without the ball in their hands.
Their offense is elite, but their defense is nothing to sneeze at either, ranking 2nd in Defensive Rating (DRTG) in the regular season at 106.6 and 6th in DRTG among playoff teams during this postseason so far with a 111.0 rating.
Now let’s throw a little fuel on this fire.
Arguably the Warriors’ biggest weakness on their current roster comes at the center position. Draymond Green and Kevon Looney have held their own nicely against opposing big men this far, but adding the Nikola Jokic, reigning back-to-back MVP of the league, to the rotation and allowing Green to play his more natural power forward position turns this lineup from deadly to nearly unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball.
This season, Morant won Most Improved Player before averaging 38.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game during the Grizzlies’ second-round series, including a 47-point outing in Game. His combination of raw athleticism and playmaking would allow him to play either guard position alongside Stephen Curry, especially in the modern-day “positionless” basketball.
The 23-year-old star is currently second in total points during the postseason so far at 475 despite playing fewer games than nine of the top ten on the list. He’s capable of playing multiple positions thanks to his 6’7 frame, and perhaps the best true playmaker in the NBA right now when considering how he creates shots for both himself and others.
Revamped Golden State Warriors
A starting lineup with these new additions looks something like this:
Ja Morant – Stephen Curry – Luka Doncic – Draymond Green – Nikola Jokic
This lineup leaves no doubt about the offensive capabilities. Every player on the court is an exceptional passer. Curry, Doncic, and Jokic would compose one of the best 3-point shooting trios in the league. They also have five players who can attack a defense off the dribble and create plays for each other. The unselfishness is through the roof, but the defense could leave a little to the imagination. Obviously Green is an elite defender, but combining essentially three point guards in the backcourt with a less-than-mobile big man in Jokic would be the biggest downfall of this team when trying to defend a bigger, fast opponent.
Which is exactly what they would have to do in this scenario.
Boston has been the best two-way team in the postseason so far, posting a NET Rating (ORTG minus DRTG) of 6.7 in 18 games played. They have the second-best DRTG in the playoffs at 105.1, trailing only the Milwaukee Bucks (102.7). Jayson Tatum is slowly blossoming into the full-blown superstar experts believed he could be, while Jaylen Brown is playing the role of “side-kick” to near perfection most nights.
Handing the reigns to Marcus Smart at the point guard position was arguably the biggest change that allowed the Celtics to achieve the level of success they have this season. He’s averaged a career-high 5.9 assists per game to go along with 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game while earning the Defensive Player of the Year award in the NBA this season.
Speaking of defense, let’s see who Boston gets to add to their already stacked defensive lineup.
Jayson Tatum has grown to play a similar role as Kevin Durant, serving as the primary ball-handler at times despite being one of the taller players and better shooters on the court at all times. Either could essentially play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, making this an even more versatile team than it already is.
The “Greek Freak” needs little introduction. He leads all players this postseason in points per game at 31.7 while also averaging 14.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game. Standing at 6’11, Antetokounmpo can play and guard multiple positions on the court, including the center position which is most likely where he will slot into his new lineup.
The most recent victim of the Boston Celtics, Butler once again proved his toughness and resilience in the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Serving as a primary facilitator and scorer, Butler played a total of 94 minutes across the final two games of the series, sitting for just over two minutes total. He averaged 41.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.5 steals in a valiant effort against the Finals-bound Celtics.
Revamped Boston Celtics
The starting lineup for this team gets interesting. Would they choose to start Marcus Smart and bring one of their new additions off the bench, or will they start an ultra-tall lineup without a true point guard? We tend to lead towards the latter.
Jimmy Butler – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Kevin Durant – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Defense. Not much else needs to be said about this 6’7 – 6’11 lineup chalk-loaded with defensive-minded and two-way players. When Kevin Durant is the clear weak link on the defensive side of the ball, you’re doing something right. And let’s not forget about current Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, coming off the bench alongside other defensive-minded forwards like Al Horford and Grant Williams – the primary factor in the Celtics limiting Kevin Durant during Round One.
This team could run into an issue when defending dominant centers (enter Nikola Jokic) but hold a distinct size advantage over nearly every single other position. The offense is full of players capable of scoring in isolation situations, but they could also prove to be incredibly unselfish. So far this postseason these five players are combining to average 27.1 assists per game, which would land them in second place among postseason teams without considering any bench assists.
This heavyweight matchup essentially boils down to elite offensive versus elite defense. The Warriors’ ability to move the ball and play off of each other while possessing four of the deadliest offensive players in the league in their starting five could make them virtually impossible to stop. Now consider the trio of Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins coming off the bench. Is that enough raw firepower to overcome what looks to be the greatest defensive team ever assembled on paper?
Because the Celtics would have length, agility, and versatility across the board – including their bench unit. They don’t possess the raw showing ability of the Revamped Warriors, but each of their five starters is an elite isolation player. Will this Revamped Celtics squad be able to generate enough points off of turnovers and isolation opportunities to keep up with the over-powered Warriors offense?
In short, the Celtics’ defense will be too much for the Warriors to overcome. Yes, they have all of the offensive pieces anyone could ever ask for, but consider the individual matchups for a second. Jimmy Butler (6’8) and Jaylen Brown (6’7) would be the most likely matchups for Ja Morant (6’3) and Stephen Curry (6’2). The sheer length and switch-ability on this Revamped Boston team would negate much of what the Revamped Warriors would want to do offensively. Passing lanes would be a nightmare with so many high IQ wing defenders on the court at once.
Though the Warriors would possess the offensive advantage, don’t overlook what the Celtics could accomplish offensively with elite weapons like Durant and Antetokounmpo added to the already-potent duo of Tatum and Brown. They would essentially be able to find a mismatch in the post on every single possession and surround that mismatch with enough shooting that the Warriors couldn’t afford to send double teams.
Celtics in 7.
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