SAN FRANCISCO -- The narrative of the 2022 NBA Finals has turned to a tale of two timelines. The Warriors have been there and done that. They went to five straight Finals, and are back after a two-year hiatus.
But they've already had their time. Is the Boston Celtics' time now? Their top three stars -- Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart -- are 24, 25 and 28 years old. Steph Curry is 34, and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both are 32. At the same time, it's not like the Celtics are a new team by any means.
Their Big Three has played together for the last five seasons. Each one has spent their entire career in Boston. In the last five seasons, the Celtics have made the Eastern Conference finals three times. This is their first time breaking through.
The Celtics also are the only team with a winning record against the Warriors since 2014-15, when Steve Kerr took over as head coach. The two teams split their season series, with the Warriors winning the first and dropping the second. After a week-long break in between their last game, the Warriors quest for another title begins Thursday night at Chase Center.
Let's break down how the two teams match up in a variety of categories.
Reminder: Positions are in flux, especially with these two teams.
Warriors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee, Moses Moody, Gary Payton II
Celtics: Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, Nik Stauskas
More than a decade later, it still all starts with the Splash Brothers of Curry and Thompson. Curry has been better as the playoffs have gone on, winning the first ever Magic Johnson Western Conference finals MVP after 23.8 points, 7.4 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game against the Dallas Mavericks, while shooting 42.4 percent on 3-pointers.
Thompson throughout the playoffs has been a bit up and down, and averaged only 15.3 points on 29.2 percent shooting from deep in the first four games vs. the Mavs, before playing hero again with 32 points and eight 3-pointers to finish them off in Game 5.
Having two days off in between the first two games should be huge for him.
Poole has to be both aggressive and under control. On the road, he has been out of control at times and it has cost him. When he's attacking the rim, he's a handful to guard. But center Robert Williams swatted him twice the last time these two teams squared off.
The now 20-year-old Moody is entrenched in the rotation, and it will be big for him to have confidence on offense. He showed that in the Warriors' Game 4 comeback attempt against Dallas, and that fourth quarter was big for Lee as well. Any version of Payton being back will be big, if that does that happen.
Between Smart, White and Pritchard, the Celtics have three players where different versions of themselves can swing games and possibly the series.
Smart scored 20 points and made four 3-pointers when the Celtics blew out the Warriors in March, and Pritchard scored 10 points off the bench. Pritchard has seven games this postseason where he hasn't scored, and six where he has ended in double figures. White is the X-factor of the bunch. He averaged 14.3 points and shot 35 percent on 3-pointers in the finals four games of the Eastern Conference finals. In his first two games against the Warriors, both with the San Antonio Spurs, he put up 25 points and 16 points but was held scoreless in his one game against them with Boston.
Kerr has compared Smart to the guard-version of Green, and he'll be a pest on both sides of the ball.
Warriors: Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr.
Celtics: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams
Brown can be described as a shooting guard or small forward. Either way, he's a wing and the Celtics' wings are what have always made them dangerous. White can be classified here at times, as can Smart. For the Celtics, though, it all starts with their duo of Brown and Tatum.
Wiggins has been phenomenal this postseason. He now has a different kind of test dealing with those two. His main focus will be slowing down Tatum.
In the previous two rounds, Wiggins was attached to ball-handlers like Ja Morant and Luka Doncic. Tatum can be that at times, but has a different role and skill set than Morant and Doncic. How will Wiggins and the Warriors attack him? Will they live with big games friom Brown if it means disrupting Tatum? It will be fascinating to watch.
The Celtics top-scorers are averaging 27.0 points per game (Tatum) and 22.9 (Brown).
Both Porter and Iguodala remain injury question marks, and we'll shortly know how much Kerr really trusts the 19-year-old Kuminga.
Warriors: Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Nemanja Bjelica
Celtics: Al Horford, Robert Williams II, Daniel Theis, Luke Kornet
Green came out aggressive and on a mission in the Warriors' final game last round, scoring a season-high 17 points. The Warriors' loss to the Celtics in the regular season was his second game back from injury, and he's living and breathing the thought of another title right now. Looney has turned into the Warriors' latest folk hero in the playoffs, and he will be needed again. Bjelica might have earned himself some more minutes, combining to be a plus-22 over the Warriors' previous two games.
He didn't play at all the two games before that.
After 141 career playoff games, Horford finally has made the Finals and has looked like a revitalized player at times. He has scored over 20 points four times this postseason. In his one game against the Warriors this season, he scored six points but was a plus-23.
Williams is the big mystery. He crushed the Warriors in two games during the regular season, and was a combined plus-21. But that was a fully healthy Williams. He has missed seven games in the playoffs to a lingering knee issue, and the Celtics have to have their fingers crossed that he can stay healthy throughout the Finals.
Who Has The Advantage?
The Celtics are young, strong, long and athletic. They have a handful of players who can go off for big offensive performances. They also tied with the Warriors for the best defensive rating in the NBA this season at 106.9, but Boston was far and away the best defensive team in basketball once 2021 flipped to 2022.
The Warriors are averaging a playoff-high 114.5 points per game, and the Celtics are allowing only 101 points per game, which is second to only the Miami Heat at 100.4 points. Boston has the best point differential (6.1) in the playoffs, and Golden State (5.4) is second.
But the Warriors could be getting healthy at the perfect time with the possible returns of Payton, Porter and Iguodala. The Celtics had to go seven games in their last two series, and have played two more games than Golden State in these playoffs. Tatum is averaging 41 minutes per game, Curry is averaging 33.6.
So far in the playoffs, Tatum has played around 190 more minutes than Curry. That's an extra three-plus hours on the court.
Under Kerr, the Warriors are 19-1 in Game 1 at home, with their only loss coming in 2016 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thursday night will be a big one. The Celtics will push the Warriors all series long, but as Draymond continues to remind everybody, nobody has been able to knock the Warriors off the mountain top when they're at their whole.
That continues. Warriors in six.