An intriguing NBA Finals matchup that features a legendary history, a controversial present and even a touch of ownership rivalry tips off Thursday night when the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors contest Game 1 in San Francisco.
The Jayson Tatum-led Celtics own the best road record in this year’s postseason (7-2) while the Stephen Curry-led Warriors are the only team yet to lose at home (9-0).
The franchises have met four times previously in the playoffs, the first three occurring in the Eastern Conference finals before the Warriors moved west from Philadelphia. The Celtics won all four matchups, including in 1960 and 1962 in the second and fourth seasons of their eight straight championships.
Boston also beat the Warriors in the 1964 NBA Finals, a five-game series in which Wilt Chamberlain outscored rival Bill Russell 146-56 and outrebounded him 138-126 in defeat.
The Celtics have added six titles in the post-Russell era, including one — their most recent — in 2008 over the Los Angeles Lakers with Joe Lacob as one of their part-owners.
The Massachusetts native became owner of the Warriors two years later and has since added three to his championship-ring collection, with Golden State claiming crowns in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Lacob insisted this week that one for the thumb would be sweeter than any other.
“Boston was very important and those guys were very helpful. They’re friends to this day,” he said of his former partners. “Not too close friends, though.
“I want to kill them right now, I’m going to be honest. I’m very competitive about this, and I’m sure they are, too. It’s going to be a battle on the court and a little bit of a battle on the ownership level, too. We want to kill each other.”
The teams split games during the regular season, with each winning on the other’s court. No doubt, the rematch in March in San Francisco is fresher in the memories of the players than the December meeting in Boston.
The March 16 contest was when the Celtics’ Marcus Smart, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, rolled up on the back of Curry’s left leg while diving for a loose ball.
While some Warriors — including Draymond Green — disagreed, Golden State coach Steve Kerr labeled the play “dangerous” … and that was before it was determined Curry would need a month to soothe a sprained left foot.
With Tatum (26 points), Jaylen Brown (26) and Smart (20) combining for 72 points, the Celtics went on to win the game comfortably, 110-88, harassing the Warriors into 37.2 percent shooting overall and 22.9 percent on 3-point attempts.
The next NBA champion could be determined by shooting percentages, as the best-of-seven series pits the long-range marksmanship of Golden State’s Curry and Klay Thompson against Boston’s suffocating perimeter defense featuring Smart and Brown.
The Warriors, whose players enter the series with a total of 123 games of Finals experience compared to the Celtics’ zero, rank third in the NBA in the postseason in field-goal percentage (49.3 percent) and fourth in 3-point percentage (37.9 percent). They’ll be up against a Celtics defense that ranks second in both categories (43.3 percent and 31.7 percent, respectively).
Smart recognizes he could hold the key.
“I’ve gone from a naive Southern kid to a championship-starved Bostonian,” he said this week. “I won’t settle for anything less than Banner 18.”
–Field Level Media