The NBA Finals kick-off tonight at the Chase Center in San Francisco, with the Golden State Warriors hosting the Boston Celtics. Let’s preview the Finals and talk a little Bulls on this mild Thursday morning in Chicago.
• The Boston Celtics overcame a 23-24 start to finish the season on a 28-7 run en route to a 51-31 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Nets, Bucks, and Heat, the Celtics have punched their ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years. The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in the past eight seasons after winning 53 games and bouncing back from back-to-back playoff misses following their 2019 title run. Zach Kram does a great job setting the scene for this series in his column at The Ringer this week: The Celtics’ elite defense versus the Warriors’ elite offense will be one of the central storylines.
Will the Warriors’ elite offense best the Celtics’ elite defense? Will Steph Curry finally have his Finals MVP moment? @zachkram has three big questions heading into the 2022 Finals: https://t.co/cODOMrdevi
— The Ringer (@ringer) May 30, 2022
• As Kram points out in his column, the Celtics have had success against the Warriors, even dating back to the peak of Golden State’s dominance in the late 2010s. Since the 2014-15 season, when Steve Kerr took over as the head coach of the Warriors, the Dubs are 7-9 against Boston, and the Celtics are the only team in the NBA with a winning record against the Warriors in the regular season during that span.
• If you asked the Warriors, this trip to the NBA Finals is arguably the sweetest of the six trips they’ve made in the last eight seasons. They’re probably right in that vein. After Klay Thompson tore his ACL and Kevin Durant departed for Brooklyn following the 2019 Finals, people began writing the dynasty obituaries while Golden State missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Even this season, many anointed the 61-win Phoenix Suns as the team to beat in the Western Conference. The upstart Grizzlies got plenty of love as well. The Warriors quietly won 53 games and waited for their chance to shine in a place where they’ve dominated for nearly a decade; the NBA Playoffs.
• Still, this version of the Warriors isn’t even the best version. Steph Noh – one of the best basketball writers there is – ranked the Warriors’ six Finals teams in order of greatness in his recent column at The Sporting News. Spoiler, the No. 1 spot doesn’t belong to the Warriors team that many think it would.
How does this Warriors team compare to all of their other Finals rosters? I ranked them all: https://t.co/ruqnkEYPtZ
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) May 31, 2022
• Noh also delivered his NBA Finals odds, picks, and predictions and a breakdown of the key matchup between Stephen Curry and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. Noh also touched on other storylines to watch and named his X-Factor for the series.
My Warriors/Celtics Finals preview and prediction is up: https://t.co/xSsX6PWzLt
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) May 30, 2022
• Noh’s X-Factor for the series … Jordan Poole. The 22-year-old guard is averaging 18.4 points per contest and shooting 53 percent (and 39 percent from the three-point range) in these playoffs. His offensive prowess has been on full display. So has his lack of defensive prowess. The Warriors will have a problem if the Celtics can consistently switch him onto Jayson Tatum.
• Steve Kerr called Poole’s work ethic unmatched: “He’s at the top of the league in my mind in terms of work ethic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said recently. “And how much he wants it. So it’s great to see somebody that committed get rewarded.” So, how did Poole go from a G-Leaguer to a star in the making and an X-Factor in the NBA Finals? Logan Murdock dove into that question in a recent column over at The Ringer:
— The Ringer (@ringer) May 31, 2022
• Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell was in Chicago for a workout with the Bulls on Wednesday, according to his Instagram. Liddell has been linked to the Bulls in mock drafts and is projected to go somewhere in the mid-to-late first round in this month’s NBA Draft.
Looks like Illinois native and former Buckeye EJ Liddell is in for a workout today.
Projected by most to go in the mid-to-late first round.
(via IG | ejliddel) pic.twitter.com/Ko4WRl652t
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) June 1, 2022
• Liddell is a 21-year-old junior who posted some excellent numbers for the Buckeyes this past season (19.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 2.5 APG | 49% FG, 37.4% 3P, 76.5% FT) as his draft stock rose to the point where teams view the six-foot-seven forward as an NBA-ready prospect who can step into a reserve role as a rookie. Absent a first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Arturas Karnišovas, and Marc Eversley drafted another 21-year-old college junior in Ayo Dosunmu. The local product Dosunmu stepped right into a reserve role with the Bulls and even spent a significant stretch of the season in the starting lineup due to injuries. Can the Bulls strike gold with another local product in Liddell this time around?
• Liddell attended Belleville West (Belleville, Illinois) and won Illinois Mr. Basketball honors in 2018 and 2019 while leading Belleville West to consecutive state championships. On Wednesday, Rob Schaefer put together a great read on Liddell’s potential fit with the Chicago Bulls over at NBC Sports Chicago.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, @KCJHoop and I will be knocking out profiles of some potential targets for the Bulls at 18
First up, one of my favorite prospects in the class, Ohio State's EJ Liddellhttps://t.co/ANQUpHApGa
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) June 1, 2022
• Darnell Mayberry dives into some of the significant decisions that AKME and the Bulls will be faced with this summer in his latest column over at The Athletic:
From the NBA draft to Zach LaVine’s free agency, the Chicago Bulls have significant decisions ahead
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) June 2, 2022
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) June 2, 2022
• LeBron James has officially become a billionaire, according to Forbes. James becomes the first NBA player to cross the $1 billion net worth threshold while still active:
LeBron James has officially become a billionaire, according to @Forbes.
That makes him the first NBA player in history to cross a $1 billion net worth while still active. pic.twitter.com/rw8vAB9Zf9
— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) June 2, 2022
• Some tragic news on the NFL side of things surfaced on Wednesday when we learned that former Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys running back Marion Barber passed away at the age of 38:
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) June 1, 2022
• Tab dives into some Blackhawks free-agency discussion:
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) June 1, 2022
• That’s it for today! I’ll have the NBA Finals Pre-Gamin ready to go this evening and as I’ve done with the rest of the NBA Playoffs I’ll have a story on each game the following morning. Enjoy the action tonight!