Even though Klay Thompson played a huge part in why the Golden State Warriors returned to the NBA Finals, it was the eventual MVP Stephen Curry who was the difference maker.
2. Boston Celtics vs. 3. Golden State Warriors
For Boston they will attempting to win the franchise’s 18th championship. They haven’t been to the Finals since 2010. This time around, a new generation of stars led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be at the helm. Al Horford will be making his first Finals appearance in his career. Defense has been this teams claim to fame this year with Marcus Smart being named the Defensive Player of the Year. Tatum and Brown though do quite a bit for them offensively and that should continue if the Celtics want to hoist another banner.
Aside from the last two seasons, this will be Golden State’s sixth Finals appearance in the last eight seasons. It probably isn’t a coincidence that they didn’t contend for a championship the last two seasons because Klay Thompson wasn’t available due to multiple injuries. Now that he has returned this year, everything fell into place. It also helps to still have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green around. Not to mention a couple important pieces in Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole. The core has been playing to their capabilities. Will the supporting cast continue playing to theirs against a better defensive opponent?
Players to Watch: F Jayson Tatum and G Stephen Curry
Who Wins: Warriors in 7 games
* – indicates playoffs
MVP – G Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
Rookie – C Evan Mobley – Cleveland Cavaliers
Coach – Taylor Jenkins – Memphis Grizzlies
Defensive Player – C Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
Most Improved – F Andrew Wiggins – Golden State Warriors
Sixth Man – G Tyler Herro – Miami Heat
Executive – Arturas Karnisovas – Chicago Bulls
Didn’t Giannis Antetokounmpo suffer a knee injury in the Eastern Conference Finals? And it kept him out of the final two games of that series? Is that right? It is? Okay. I guess that’s why his nickname is the “Greek Freak”.
3. Milwaukee Bucks vs. 2. Phoenix Suns
This is what was expected of the Bucks for the last three seasons now. Getting to the Finals. Now that they’ve made it they must prove their worth. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been stellar for them, but has had moments where you wonder where he went in the playoffs this year. Unfortunately he suffered a knee sprain during the Conference Finals and might not be available for most of the Finals. This leaves Khris Middleton as the go-to scorer for the Bucks. He wasn’t afraid to take charge when Giannis went down and that needs to continue. Jrue Holiday has been exactly what the Bucks needed in the backcourt. A staunch defender and a solid facilitator on offense. Brook Lopez stepped up in the frontcourt to help get Milwaukee out of the Eastern Conference. If the likes of Bobby Portis and P.J. Tucker step up into a more prominent role this could be the Bucks first title since 1971 with the likes of Lou Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Phoenix was close to clinching a spot in the playoffs last year playing in the bubble in Orlando. It should be no surprise that they are at this point. Aside from acquiring Chris Paul, this is the same team from last year. With Paul aboard it left room for Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to blossom into superstars before our eyes. No one has figured out how to shutdown or even slowdown Booker yet. Ayton hasn’t had a real challenge in the paint. Mikal Bridges has become a reliable scoring option when Booker and Ayton need a break. Paul getting to his first Finals appearance is well deserved and if he should win it would be a fitting notch to his Hall of Fame career. Cameron Johnson and Cameron Payne have been valuable parts of a deep rotation in the desert. If Jae Crowder doesn’t have to worry about guarding Giannis much, this would help the Suns immensely. This could be the year they finally cash in after a tremendous season.
Players to Watch: F Khris Middleton and G Devin Booker
Who Wins: Bucks in 6 games