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The 2022 NBA Finals Picks and Predictions - Wiggins puts the Dubs one win away from glory
Our basketball handicapping experts, James Tillman and Mete Aktaş agree that this NBA Championship is there for the Golden State Warriors to win, but the Boston Celtics are hanging in there at 3-2 in the series. The Warriors are the favorites (-360) - will it go all the way to seven games?
Andrew Wiggins shone for the Warriors in Game 5 © Kyle Terada-USA Today Sports
James Tillman: The conference finals matchup in the East between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics needed a seventh and deciding game to determine which squad would represent the conference in the NBA Finals.
The series between the conference’s top two teams was interesting, to say the least. Coming into the series finale the road teams were 4-2, while the home team was 2-4 – and though Miami hosted this do-or-die Game 7 there was no guarantee they’d win. The Celtics jumped out to an early 15-point lead after the first 12 minutes of action. But as Miami has done all season, the team fought back to close within six points (55-49) at the break. Fast-forward to the fourth quarter, the Celtics held what appeared to be a commanding 13-point lead with 3:35 remaining. But the Heat weren’t done just yet. They went on an 11-0 run to trim the deficit to 98-96. Jimmy Butler, who finished with 35 points, rose up for a 3-pointer that would have given Miami the lead, but his shot clanked off the front of the rim. And with a pair of free throws from Marcus Smart, the Celtics escaped with a 100-96 victory, giving the road team yet another victory in a series where home-court advantage was not a factor.
With the win, the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. The Celtics accomplished a few other things as well. For starters, Boston beat the ghosts of Playoffs-past and eliminated each of the teams that had knocked them out of the playoffs in the past few seasons. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Celtics when they faced off in the 2019 playoffs. The Heat eliminated the Celtics when these two met in the conference finals two seasons ago, and Boston avenged its 4-1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets last year by sweeping them in the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs. This was quite the accomplishment for a team that was below the .500 mark back in January. Despite being counted out Boston finished the season winning 28 of their last 35 games, notching the second-best record in the conference on the last day of the regular season.
As it was mentioned earlier, they kicked off the playoffs with a 4-0 series win over the Nets. They followed that up with a hard-fought series against the defending champs. Similar to their series against the Heat, the home team won four of the first six games. Boston eventually prevailed on their home court at TD Garden in Game 7. And with their win over the Heat, the Celtics have now won two series that went the distance - not bad for a team that was left for dead just a few months ago.
Although the Celtics have secured their 22nd appearance in the NBA Finals series, they will need to consistently play at an elite level if they hope to beat the Golden State Warriors.
Mete Aktaş: The wait for the Warriors' return to the NBA's grandest stage is over. The Golden State Warriors return to the NBA Finals with a 4-1 series victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals to have a shot at their fourth championship in less than a decade.
Golden State will make its sixth Finals appearance in the Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green era, becoming the fourth franchise in NBA history to compete in at least six Finals in an eight-year span. This trio has carried the Warriors back to where they belong and where they promised themselves they would return. In the first round, the Warriors defeated the Denver Nuggets 4-1, and in the Western Conference Semifinals, they beat the Memphis Grizzlies 4-2. Overall, they had a postseason record of 12-4 in 2022 - the best in this year's NBA Playoffs.
The Warriors have dealt with a lot of turmoil in the 1080 days since losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors. Kevin Durant, the two-time finals MVP departed the team. Injuries kept Klay Thompson out for two and a half years, Curry only played five games of the 2019-20 season which saw Golden State finish 15th in the West with 15 wins. They were only slightly better in the 2020-21 season, making it to the first-ever play-in tournament, where a young Memphis Grizzlies club defeated them.
Golden State entered the 2021-22 season determined to end their two-year playoff drought. Thanks to an MVP-level performance from Steph Curry, they had a league-best 17-3 record through the first 20 games. Curry was the top scorer in the league during that span, averaging 28.6 points per game.
Despite the hot start, the regular season wasn't without its bumps. Curry's early form faded as he finished with the lowest three-point percentage (38%) of his career and the lowest scoring average (25.5 points per game) since the 2016-17 season. Thompson finally returned in the second half of the season, but he hasn't looked like the All-Star of old - shooting less than 40% from three-point land for the first time in his career.
Injuries to Green, a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year before a two-month absence, and Curry saw the Warriors fall to the Grizzlies for the second seed in the West near the end of the season. In retrospect, Curry's absence from the final 12 games of the season may have been a blessing in disguise as 22-year-old combo guard Jordan Poole flourished in his absence, and the two-time MVP returned to the team rested and reinvigorated in time for the playoffs. Poole, the 28th selection in the 2019 NBA Draft, became a candidate for Most Improved Player this season after averaging 18.5 points and four assists while serving as a critical bench scorer and Curry stand-in.
The emergence of Andrew Wiggins has also contributed to the Warriors' progress this season. The 2014 NBA Draft's first overall selection was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal for D'Angelo Russell in 2020, and was viewed as someone who could be a better role player than Russell at the time of the trade. Finally, that dream appears to have come true.
Canadian-born Wiggins’ defensive strengths have been crucial to the Warriors' success. He was tasked with defending Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals as well as guarding other elite scorers such as Ja Morant and Donovan Mitchell. He has done everything the organization asked of him, and he has entirely changed the narrative of his career, debuting in the 2022 All-Star Game and becoming a vital member of the current Warriors core. Wiggins also produced probably the most memorable moment of the playoffs thus far when he dunked on Doncic in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
Another pleasant surprise on defense for this Warriors team was the performance of Gary Payton II, who suddenly became a defensive specialist like his father, Gary ‘The Glove’ Payton. The 29-year-old guard enjoyed a career season as he supplied high-energy defense and averaged 7.1 points on 61.6% shooting from the field, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in 17.8 minutes per game. Payton II suffered a fractured elbow during the series against the Grizzlies, but he is slated to return during the NBA Finals. His stingy defense and efficient offense could boost the team's depth and championship odds.
James Tillman: The Miami Heat proved to be a formidable opponent for the Celtics. By the same token, the team had several players that were hobbled/limited by injuries, including Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and Tyler Herro. That, along with somewhat predictable offensive gameplan from Miami, eventually allowed Boston to move on even if it was by a slim margin.
Meanwhile, Golden State is clicking on all cylinders. And unlike Miami, this roster has multiple players that can produce big games on any given night.
It would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the Celtics have one of the best duos in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, Tatum is my player to watch for the Celtics in the NBA Finals
Tatum is the team’s leading scorer in the 2022 NBA Playoffs with 27.1 points per contest. In the three losses to Miami, he averaged just 23 points per contest. But in the Celtics’ four wins, Tatum averaged 26.5 points per contest.
This includes a couple of stellar plays in the series finale. A 3-pointer from the left-wing and a mid-range jumper helped Boston stave off a Miami team that was looking to make one final push. When it was all said and done, Tatum finished the evening with a team-high 26 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Given those numbers, it’s of little surprise that Tatum was awarded the inaugural Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP award.
NBA Finals prop bet: Go with the over if the predicted per-game scoring average for Jayson Tatum is 26 points per game or less. He scored at least 27 points four times against the Heat and he’s averaging 27.1 points per contest in the playoffs. Should the Celtics win the series, look for Tatum to be named Finals MVP as well .
Image: © Winslow Townson - USA TODAY Sports
Celtics vs Warriors - Head to Head
James Tillman: These two teams met twice during the regular season. In the first meeting back in mid-December, the Warriors led by a 68-54 margin at intermission. Boston limited Golden State to just 14 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors emerged victorious 111-107. Although Curry didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (8-for-21 overall and 5-for-14 from 3), he led the Warriors with 30 points, to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Andrew Wiggins chipped in with 27 points (11-for-20 shooting) and six rebounds.
The second game between the two ball clubs was a bit one-sided. Stephen Curry sustained a knee injury when Marcus Smart made a play for a loose ball and dove into Curry’s knee with 4:19 left in the second quarter. Curry left the game after attempting just four shots (1-for-4). The Celtics won the game going away (110-88). Not only that, but Curry missed the last 12 games of the regular season. It will be interesting to see if that sequence has a residual effect when these teams square off on June 2nd.
Mete Aktaş: The Celtics have tremendous size and scoring on the wing behind two All-Star forwards in Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown. However, Boston's calling card is its scorching defense. Versatile big men Al Horford, Robert Williams III, and Grant Williams allow the Celtics to switch on the court smoothly, while they also boast the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart.
Boston's defensive rating of 104.9 is second among playoff teams, while Golden State has the top offensive rating of 116.1, four efficiency points more than its regular-season ranking. So the most critical chess match in this series will be between the Warriors' offense and the Celtics' defense, with the winner taking home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
James Tillman: The Celtics notched their 22nd NBA Finals appearance on the strength of their defense. Boston is ranked third in points allowed (101.3); second in opponent shooting (43.3 percent). And they are limiting their opponents to 32.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc – the third-lowest conversion rate in the postseason.
On the flip side, Golden State is one of the better offensive teams in these playoffs. They have the highest scoring average (114.5 points per game). Golden State is also ranked third in overall shooting (49.3 percent) behind the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns. And they are ranked fourth in 3-point shooting (37.9 percent).
It is also worth noting that these teams have the best point differential in the playoff field as well. The Celtics are first (plus-6.2) and the Warriors are second (plus-5.4). One of the best defensive teams in the league squaring off against one of the better scoring teams with a championship at stake? It doesn’t get any better than this!
After winning the All-Star and the first-ever Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP awards, Stephen Curry turned his eyes to the only award missing from his trophy case, the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award.
The 6'3 guard had an all-around performance in the Western Conference finals, averaging 23.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 43.9% shooting from three-point range in the series. He will once again be the focal point of the Warriors' offense once again versus the Celtics, and we could expect Curry to lead his troops to victory and claim the fourth championship of his illustrious career while crowning it with the MVP award.
NBA Finals prop bet: Stephen Curry to win the MVP award.
Image: © Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Mete Aktaş: With the better record of the two teams, the Warriors will have a home-court advantage, hosting four of the series' potential seven games. During the Western Conference Finals, Golden State had gone 9-0 at home in the postseason and defeated the Mavericks in five games. So far in the playoffs, they have outscored their opponents by 14.6 points at Chase Center. They also enter the finals with a rest advantage for the third straight series.
Boston has been impressive in the postseason, particularly on defense, but it took seven games to defeat the Miami Heat. This happened after another difficult seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Warriors will have rested for a whole week before Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, while the Celtics will have only three days off after flying more than 2,500 miles across the country ahead of the opener.
Not only will they be fresher when they take to the court on Thursday June 2nd, the Warriors have substantially more experience at this level. Curry, Thompson, and Green have already appeared in five NBA Finals together, winning three championships. In a series that should go down to the wire, I predict the Warriors to come up on top and win their fourth title in eight years.
James Tillman: It’s a series that will be difficult to predict. On one side we have a Celtics team that is excelling at the defensive end of the floor, but none of the players on the roster have ever played in an NBA Finals series. Conversely, the Warriors have been one of the better scoring teams in the playoffs and they are just three years removed from a run that saw them advance to five consecutive NBA Finals (2015-2019). Although the series can go either way, look for the Warriors’ experience to win out. Golden State will take the series in seven games.
- Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title in 7 games (+325)
- Over/Under: Go with the over if the predicted O/U for the two teams is 220 points per contest or less - they are averaging a combined 222 points per contest in the postseason.
- Stephen Curry to win the MVP award (+105)
- Go with the over if the predicted per-game scoring average for Jayson Tatum is 26 points per game or less.
- Jordan Poole to average over 18.5 points in the series
James is a freelance sports writer who specialises in the NBA - his work has been published across multiple sites including OddsUSA and FanSided. Full bio here.
Mete started his sports journalism career in 2000 and has worked for various national media outlets as a basketball writer and commentator. Full bio here.
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Odds updated: Jul 18, 2:10 PM UTC
2022 NBA Finals MVP Odds
|Player||Odds to win NBA Finals MVP|
Odds courtesy of BetMGM, correct as of June 7, 2022.
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|3 New York||0||0||.000||0-0||0-0||0-0||0-0||0-0-0||0-0-0|
Last updated: Jul 18, 1:43 PM UTC
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Images courtesy of: © Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports, © Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports, © Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports, © Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports, © Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports, © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports