It’s not every day we get a mass-spectator NBA championship in our backyard. Cue the trumpets.
On Thursday, the National Basketball Association Finals come to town, and Game 1 begins in a best-of-seven series pitting the Warriors against the Boston Celtics.
Though much has been written, broadcasted and podcasted about the games, it’s all aimed at a rabid, worldwide fan base that chews stats like they used to chew bubblegum.
What about the outcasts? Those who don’t know (and frankly don’t care much) about professional basketball, but don’t want to be left out of the parties or the wasted time talking at work (if you’ve gone back to the office)?
Faux fans, this one’s for you.
The Golden State Warriors
Our home team is called the Golden State Warriors (“Dubs”). Every other team has a home in a more or less real place, like Boston. You can’t find “Golden State” on any map, but if you take the 22-Fillmore east on 16th Street, you’ll come to a large, sleek, white concrete frog hulking on the bay, close to the old Mission Rock. That’s Chase Center, the arena where games are played and gold is made.
Cast of characters: Dubs
Three of the five starting Dubs have played together for almost a decade. Together they have been to the Finals five times, and have won three championships.
Stephen Curry (No. 30): When he shoots a long shot, mass expectation falls over the gym. Like when Barry Bonds hit a fly ball to right field. Although he’s generally acknowledged to be the greatest shooter of all time, unlike other superstars, Curry plays a team game. Watch him on the bench. He’s hunched over, wearing a towel over his head. But when a teammate makes or blocks a shot, he leaps to his feet, waves the towel, dances a little jig and leads cheers.
Klay Thompson (No. 11): Out for two years after two gruesome leg injuries, it’s shocking the man can still walk, much less play quality defense and score buckets of points in often violently physical games. An eccentric dog lover; when he’s in rhythm, Thompson makes everything look easy. Watch how smoothly he shoots from a distance. There’s a reason Curry and Thompson are called “Splash Brothers.”
Draymond Green (No. 23): He doesn’t take a lot of shots. He doesn’t make a lot of shots. But Green calls all the shots. The defensive savant reads patterns like a palmist, sees the future, and barks at his teammates to go here or there. Green loves to talk, especially to referees. Often, he tells them things they don’t want to hear.
The fourth starter has played with Green, Thompson and Curry since 2016.
Kevon Looney (No. 5): The Dubs’ “big man” is not very big, by NBA standards. What Looney lacks in size, he makes up with desire, physical force and exceptional smarts. Watch him bust through a forest of arms and legs to grab the ball and fling it to an open player. Long overshadowed by his more famous teammates, in the games leading to the Finals, he has excelled.
The fifth starter recently arrived in the Golden State.
Andrew Wiggins (No. 22): Wiggins looks bored most of the time. Unusually consistent on both offense and defense, he leaves the theatrics, and the accolades, to others. Once, during a timeout, he smiled and brought the house down, leaving his teammates to gasp in wonder and bemusement. He played a key role in winning the semifinals and many consider him to be the “X factor” in the Finals.
Two younger players will likely see a lot of action.
Jordan Poole (No. 3): When the Dubs need a jolt of offensive energy, they call for Poole. As a rookie, he looked completely lost on the court. Now, after months of maniacal practice, he’s grown into an indispensable part of the offense. Check out the kid’s acrobatic tricks under the basket, and how he rarely misses long shots.
Gary Payton II (No. 0): When the Dubs need a jolt of defensive energy, they call for GPII. No man seems so in his element as GPII when he invades the personal space of the opponent’s best player. He bumps, touches, tickles, probes and pinches. Injured earlier in the playoffs, his return will be welcome and much needed.
Look for timely contributions from Otto Porter, Jr. (No. 32), who always seems to be in the right place at the right time; Nemanja Bjelica, (No. 8), who is big and slow, but can shoot from the outside; Damion Lee (No. 1), who adds instant energy and experience; and, for a change of pace, rookie teenagers Jonathan Kuminga (No. 00) and Moses Moody (No. 4).
Bonus factoid: Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Payton II are sons of former NBA players.
Jayson Tatum (No. 0): A blooming superstar, who just found out earlier this year that basketball is a team sport. Tatum can shoot from anywhere, and usually will. Prone to making mistakes and throwing the ball away.
Jaylen Brown (No. 7): Went to Cal and was smart enough to leave after a year. Like Tatum, Brown lives to shoot but has recently learned he can pass.
Al Horford (No. 42): Horford anchors a rugged defense, gets rebounds and is assigned the “dirty work.” He is the highest-paid Latinx player in the league.
Robert Williams (No. 44): He destroyed the Dubs when they last met by swatting away every ball that came near the basket. He’s got arms as long as albatross wings, but he’s also got a bad knee, which may limit his leaping.
Marcus Smart (No. 36): Last time they played, Smart dived into Curry’s foot, forcing Steph out for a month. Shortly afterward, he was named Defensive Player of the Year and dyed his hair green. He’ll be guarding Curry again, but this time he’s the one with a bad foot.
Other Celtics to watch include Grant Williams (No. 12) and Derrick White (No. 9). Though mainly useful defenders, each can get hot from long range. When that happens, the Celtics are particularly tough to beat. The other Celtic brought in for long-range shooting is Payton Pritchard (No. 11), but his defense can be a liability.
Bonus factoid: Although the Boston Celtics franchise has won more NBA championships than any other, no member of the current squad has ever played in the Finals.
Tomorrow: Part II, Plotlines and Predictions