NBA Finals matchup: 3 things to know about Warriors-Celtics

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The Golden State Warriors finally know their opponent for the NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics held off the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night to advance to their 22nd NBA Finals. They will meet the Warriors, starting Thursday, June 2.

Here are three things to know about this Finals matchup.

Warriors, Celtics dealing with injuries

Golden State has three players who could return in the Finals.

Warriors guard Gary Payton II (broken left elbow) is expected to play in the championship series. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported there is “optimism” Payton could play in Game 1. Payton was injured on a flagrant foul by Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks during the Western Conference semifinals series on May 3.

Warriors forward Otto Porter Jr. (left foot soreness) missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks. He last played on May 22.

Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (neck) missed the last 12 games with a left cervical disc injury. He played in the Warriors’ first-round series against the Denver Nuggets.

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said Sunday the Warriors are “aiming” for those players' return in the Finals after getting in practice time this week.

Boston has dealt with two lingering injuries to starters.

Celtics guard Marcus Smart (sprained right ankle) missed Games 1 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, but the Defensive Player of the Year started the final three games of the series and, barring a significant aggravation of the injury, will be an important piece for the Celtics in the Finals.

Celtics center Robert Williams III has been playing through left knee soreness after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in late March. He missed several games this postseason, including Game 3 of the East finals. His status in the Finals will be one to watch.

Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole is one of the key role players to watch in the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole is one of the key role players to watch in the NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

How role players step up

Warriors guard Jordan Poole has been phenomenal off the bench this postseason, averaging 18.4 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. He’s shooting 53.1% from the field and 39.3% from 3-point range.

A season ago, Poole was starting G League games for the Warriors’ affiliate in Santa Cruz. This season, he began the season as the Warriors’ starting shooting guard while Klay Thompson continued his knee injury rehab. He started 51 regular-season games and the entirety of the first-round series against the Nuggets in his third season in the league. He shifted to the bench for the West semifinals and finals, but his production didn’t dip.

The Celtics acquired guard Derrick White at the trade deadline, and he has been a significant role player since. White is averaging 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 25 minutes per game this postseason. But it’s his defense that really helps the Celtics. Boston had the No. 1 defense in the regular season, and White’s addition strengthened the second unit. His perimeter defense has been invaluable when the Defensive Player of the Year is on the bench.

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White has been a big role player since being acquired at the trade deadline earlier this season. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics guard Derrick White has been a big role player since being acquired at the trade deadline earlier this season. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

NBA Finals historic matchup

This will be the second time the Warriors and Celtics meet in an NBA Finals — and the previous one is one of the most historic finals matchups of all time.

In 1964, the Boston Celtics beat the San Francisco Warriors in five games in what was the first Finals matchup between titans Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. It also had three other players in the NBA’s 75th anniversary team — Sam Jones and John Havlicek were teammates of Russell’s, while Chamberlain was joined on the Warriors by then-rookie Nate Thurmond.

How did those five players perform? The champion Celtics were led by Jones’ 21.2 points per game as well as 4.4 rebounds, while Havlicek finished with 18.4 points, four rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Russell averaged a mere 11.2 points, 25.2 rebounds and five blocks per game. For the Warriors, Chamberlain averaged 29.2 points and 27.6 rebounds per game, while Thurmond added 11.2 points and 13 rebounds per game.

Don't ask which player was named Finals MVP, though; that award was not given until 1969.

NBA Finals schedule

Game 1: Celtics at Warriors, Thursday, June 2, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 2: Celtics at Warriors, Sunday, June 5, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 3: Warriors at Celtics, Wednesday, June 8, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 4: Warriors at Celtics, Friday, June 10, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)

Game 5: Celtics at Warriors, Monday, June 13, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)*

Game 6: Warriors at Celtics, Thursday, June 16, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)*

Game 7: Celtics at Warriors, Sunday, June 19, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)*

* — if necessary

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