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Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics meet in the NBA Finals

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The NBA Finals begin tonight. And it seems like a throwback to old times, and by old times, we mean from 2015 to 2019, when the Golden State Warriors played in every Finals. The Warriors are back, and they'll take on the Boston Celtics, a storied franchise in its own right but one that hasn't gotten this far for a dozen years. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, he is here. Tom, let's start with the big picture. What kind of series are we expecting from both teams?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, we're hoping for a great one. Certainly, the potential is there, A. You've got the NBA's best offense, Golden State, against the best defense, the Celtics. Who's going to win that titanic clash? Of course, there are tons of subplots and nonstar players that will factor into how this series plays out. The Warriors are favored, but it's expected to be close. And don't you dare rule out either team, no matter how far behind they might fall. Golden State's great offense can always ignite. Boston has been wonderfully resilient this postseason. They won three elimination games, won seven games on the road, including last Sunday in Miami to clinch a spot in the Finals. Home-court advantage, such a big deal in the NBA playoffs, and to overcome that seven times, that's impressive.

MARTINEZ: It is impressive. All right, let's dive in a little bit more, starting with Golden State's offense. What makes them so good?

GOLDMAN: Ball and player movement - when it's working well, it is a thing of beauty. David Thorpe is a coach and analyst for the great basketball resource TrueHoop. He says that the Warriors' offense is like a Cuisinart...

MARTINEZ: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: ...A jumble of movements, smart movement, designed to overload an opponent's defense by forcing constant decisions of where to go, when to go, who to cover. And Golden State's system is very creative, too. Head coach Steve Kerr listens to ideas from his players, even famously made a lineup change in the 2015 Finals based on advice from a team video coordinator. The change worked and helped the Warriors win a championship.

MARTINEZ: All right, what about that vaunted Celtics defense? What's its secret to success?

GOLDMAN: Size - the Celtics are big - and activity. They move and rotate so well. Again, we're going to call on David Thorpe. He has a nice descriptor, this one for Boston's defense - the wood-chipper.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: It grinds up an opponent's offense with its quick, sharp rotation. Give a lot of credit to first-year head coach Ime Udoka for instilling the Celtics with a defensive identity. And now it's going to be facing the ultimate test. The Warriors have their core trio back and healthy - Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, who missed two full seasons with major injuries. That threesome was the foundation of the team that played in those five straight Finals and won three championships. They talk about their championship DNA that allows them to figure out opponents better than most.

MARTINEZ: Cuisinart versus wood-chipper. Are we playing this at a hardware store or something? I guess so.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTINEZ: All right. Now, beyond basketball, Steve Kerr, the coach of the Warriors, made a very passionate plea against gun violence last week on the day of the mass shooting in Texas. I understand Boston's coach had some similar words.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Not as raw as Steve Kerr's, but Ime Udoka spoke about Uvalde unsolicited during the celebration last Sunday after his team qualified for the Finals. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IME UDOKA: You know, we talk about this game that we love and put all our passion into, and it's not life or death, you know? We win or we lose, we kind of go home and kiss your kids, and you move on. But you sit back and think about 19 children and two adults, that's real, and that's something I don't want to be forgotten.

GOLDMAN: Now, Udoka says he worries the tragedy already is starting to fade, and he wants fans amid the Finals hoopla to keep Uvalde and the many issues surrounding it in their minds.

MARTINEZ: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.