NBA Finals 2022: Celtics-Warriors series needs more drama
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
It doesn’t have to be a buzzer-beater. There don’t need to be heroics. Nobody is standing up and demanding for "The Block" to be reincarnated, "The Shot" to be repeated, or for John Havlicek’s ghost to come back and help someone steal the ball (even though the Boston Celtics are involved).
With the NBA playoffs nearing their conclusion and having been largely a drama-devoid slog to this point, we are already conditioned not to be greedy. Following the Golden State Warriors’ 107-88 cruise in Game 2 against the Celtics on Sunday night, we’d settle for anything but a blowout at this point.
Just give us some competitive entertainment.
When it’s an NBA Finals game featuring the Warriors, you’d like to see Steph Curry’s only appearances in the fourth quarter not limited to those made in commercials.
But that’s what you get when one team cracks things open to such an extent – a 23-point buffer heading into the final 12 minutes – that the smart and sensible option is to pull your stars and rest their legs for future battles.
It has been a remarkably familiar story this season. Sunday’s snoozer came within a point of being the 23rd game this postseason decided by a margin of 20 points or more. Only the 2016 playoffs - ironically capped off by a Game 7 for the ages - have had more (24).
This time, there haven’t just been blowouts, but some notably huge margins. Golden State is once again narrowly installed as the betting favorite to be crowned champion (-118 with FOXBet), but is just over three weeks removed from losing a game by 39 points, to the Memphis Grizzlies.
"We got our ass kicked," Draymond Green said at the time. "That's alright. It happens."
Apparently so. The Miami Heat, en route to toppling the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semis, had a 35-point win. The Dallas Mavericks-Phoenix Suns series saw combined margins of 136 points.
Even when things seem close, they’re not necessarily so.
The tightest scoring separation in any series was when the Celtics got by the Brooklyn Nets, though that tilt was the only 4-0 sweep of this postseason.
There have been three Game 7s, but they’ve not exactly been thrill-a-minute. Dallas beat Phoenix by 33 in its clincher. Boston downed the Milwaukee Bucks by 28. And the Celtics’ triumph over the Heat to book a Finals place was narrowed to four points only by an unexpected near-collapse in the closing minutes.
According to The Athletic, during a span of 35 second- and third-round games, only 10 of them had any "clutch" time, which refers to when the scores are separated by five or less in the final five minutes.
"This spot on the NBA calendar belongs to the league’s best teams, who are expected to compete in tense games full of dramatic moments that turn on memorable plays," wrote Zach Kram of The Ringer. "Instead, these games are yawners."
There have been a couple of moments worthy of excitement. Ja Morant snared an electrifying game-winner against the Minnesota Timberwolves, while a Jayson Tatum buzzer-beater set the tone against the Nets. However, since the early rounds, there’s not been much to hoot and holler about.
There are some theories as to why, and the ongoing proliferation of 3-point shooting is the top of many lists. More and more 3s are being attempted, and made, than ever, in what is a true transformation of the sport and the way it is watched and played.
The pace of play is also up, so a combination of the two allows for a series of quickfire triples to suddenly put a game out of reach.
With the era of advanced analytics well and truly upon us, teams ruthlessly exploit any weakness and, if it is working, they are going to keep going back to it until someone or something forces them to stop. On Sunday, the Warriors rode an unstoppable third-quarter burst to tie the series.
"If it wasn’t for (Tatum), it would have been over at halftime," FOX’s basketball expert Chris Broussard said, on "First Things First."
The hopeful news is that all may not be lost. The classic clash between the Warriors and LeBron James’ (and Kyrie Irving’s) Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 has benefited from some nostalgic gloss. Until the late burst of big plays capped off a 93-89 Cavs win in Game 7, the average margin of victory for the previous six games was a whopping 19.7 points.
In other words, there is still time. There are some things in favor of the games becoming a little closer from here on out. The later in the series we get, the less likely a trailing team is to wave the white flag early. Golden State-Boston is a back-and-forth that looks set to go deep and is essentially boiled down to a best-of-five series. They know each other a little better, and the information gained from two games means defensive holes can be better plugged.
But there is a counterargument to that. When the importance and immediacy increase, the team losing is less inclined to back off. But so too is the leading team motivated to keep the foot on the throat and stamp out any slim possibility of a comeback.
Knowing each other better might foster equality, or it could force some creative risk from the coaching staffs. If an innovative and previously unseen tactic suddenly works, it can blow a game wide open.
The weird part is that there isn’t much to separate the Warriors and Celtics, two outstanding teams who deserve to be here. Taken as a whole, it is a pick ‘em series. But if it follows the trend of what came before, on any given night, someone is going to dominate.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.