The NBA Finals are set to begin on Thursday with Game 1 between the Warriors and Celtics, a series that will pit one team trying to extend a dynasty against another with young stars ready to make a name for themselves on basketball's biggest stage.
Given the stars and personalities involved and the decorated histories of the two franchises, this has a chance to be a fantastic series.
Here are five matchups to watch within the series that could make it one of the more entertaining NBA Finals in recent memory...
Stephen Curry vs. Marcus Smart
In one corner you have the greatest shooter of all time and one of the best scorers in league history in Curry and in the other, you have one of the best defensive guards ever in Smart. Curry is a living legend and one of the most difficult players to stop that the sport has ever seen. But if you were to choose one player, any player in the history of the game, to counter what he does, Smart would have to be on the shortlist.
That's not hyperbole, either. He just won the Defensive Player of the Year award, becoming the first guard to earn that honor since 1996. It basically never happens, but Smart was deserving because he leads the charge for arguably the best defense in the NBA. In fact, both these teams can stake that claim. The Warriors are No. 1 in defensive rating according to Basketball Reference, while the Celtics top the league by NBA.com's measure.
Stephen Curry vs. Jayson Tatum
Decades from now, when basketball fans think of this series, it could be reduced down to two of the best scorers in NBA history going at each other. Curry is well-established in that sense, but Tatum is very much on his way. Like Curry, when he's on there is basically no stopping him. He's 6-foot-8 (some say even taller) with a smooth, guard-like dribble package and a high release on his jumper that makes it almost unblockable.
Tatum is in his first NBA Finals at just 24 years old. For comparison, Curry didn't get there until he was 27. Many NBA legends had to wait a long time to reach this point. Tatum is just getting started and could be embarking on a legendary prime. If he wins a ring this year, he will enter a completely different stratosphere in terms of how he is viewed in the context of this era.
Andrew Wiggins vs. Jayson Tatum
In order for Tatum to lead the Celtics to their first title in 14 years, he will likely have to find a way to score on Wiggins, who earned some praise for how he defended Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Finals. Doncic ended up figuring Wiggins out, scoring 69 points in 47 minutes on 43.5% shooting from three in that series (per NBA tracking data), but during that time Doncic committed 11 turnovers and the Warriors, of course, won the series.
Tatum is a similar player to Doncic in size and skillset and Wiggins is uniquely suited to match up with those types of players physically. He's 6-foot-7, long and very athletic. He also has a lot of help around him in the Warriors' defensive structure. It still may not be enough to stop Tatum, but he has as good a chance as anyone to slow him down.
Steve Kerr vs. Ime Udoka
Udoka's 2021-22 season has been among the more memorable rookie coaching performances due to their mid-year turnaround. Yes, he took over a team that was already very talented and built to win. But they took their lumps and around New Year's Day flipped the switch to become contenders, riding that improvement all the way to the NBA Finals. Udoka now has a chance to win a title in his first year on the job, which is surprisingly not a rare feat.
In fact, the other coach in this series, Kerr, did the same back in 2015. He has since won two more and is looking for his fourth. Udoka would be the fourth coach in the last six years to win a championship in their first season. In addition to Kerr, Tyronn Lue (Cavs) and Nick Nurse (Raptors) accomplished the feat. Both Lue and Nurse did so against Kerr's Warriors.
Draymond Green vs. Al Horford (and Celtics fans)
This series will feature two likely future Hall of Fame big men in Green and Horford. Green, most agree, will end up Springfield, while Horford is going to be helped by the fact he was a key ingredient on two NCAA title teams. The baskeball Hall of Fame takes into account the entirety of a player's career, not just what they did in the NBA. Horford, though, has been plenty good in the NBA and him and Green are two of the smartest basketball players in today's game. They each can affect games in ways that don't show up in the box score on both ends of the floor. Watching them go against each other will be a masterclass in basketball IQ.
It should also be entertaining to see Green play the villain opposite Boston fans. They are some of the most passionate fans in the league and create a raucous road atmosphere at TD Garden. Green is one of the best at playing to the crowd and especially when an entire arena is against him. As long as Celtics fans keep it clean and all in good fun, that dynamic should add to the narrative of the series.