Celtics-Warriors preview: How C's have put defending champions in rearview mirror

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How the Celtics and Warriors have changed since their NBA Finals meeting originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics know exactly where they fell short in the 2022 NBA Finals. So, they did something about it -- with historic results to date.

Boston averaged 100.8 points per game with a 106.6 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in that 4-2 series loss to the Golden State Warriors. Through 26 games of the 2022-23 season, the C's are averaging 120.8 points per game -- the most in the NBA -- with a 119.9 offensive rating, which would be the highest in NBA history if the season ended today.

What has changed between June 16 and Dec. 10, when the Celtics and Warriors will meet in San Francisco for a highly-anticipated Finals rematch?

Celtics Talk: Ready for a Finals Rematch? Surging Celtics ready for struggling Warriors | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

For one, the Celtics' attitudes: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and several others have repeatedly mentioned how much that Finals loss haunted them, and how it has motivated them to put winning above all else this season.

But one of the biggest reasons for Boston's success in 2022-23 is the one of the biggest reasons why the team fell short in June: depth.

In those Finals, only three Celtics bench players saw more than 10 minutes per game: Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard. This season, that number has ballooned to six, with Boston's reserves posting some eye-popping numbers in the offensive rating department.

The Celtics' bench has been incredibly productive this season compared to the 2022 Finals.

We'll note the obvious caveat that teams have shorter rotations in the postseason. If the Celtics were in the playoffs right now, Pritchard and Blake Griffin likely wouldn't be playing significant minutes.

But there's no arguing that Boston has turbo-charged its depth. Offseason acquisition Malcolm Brogdon has spearheaded that turnaround, ranking third on the team in scoring as a starting-caliber guard on the Celtics' second unit.

Sam Hauser has developed into a floor-spacing weapon, while Grant Williams is shooting a career-best 46.7 percent from 3-point range. Even Luke Kornet has been a pleasant surprise, leading the team in field goal percentage (71.0 percent) and blocks per 36 minutes (2.5).

That's all without mentioning the expected return of Robert Williams, which could bump current starter Derrick White and his 128 offensive rating to the second unit.

As for the Warriors? Let's just say it's been a different story.

Two of Golden State's key reserves from their 2021-22 squad, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II, are no longer with the team. Meanwhile, the Warriors' trio of recent lottery picks -- James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody -- have yet to make a substantial impact, with Wiseman even spending time in the G-League before being recalled to the NBA squad this week.

Here's a look at their season stats to date:

  • Wiseman: 12.7 minutes/game, 6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.9 apg (12 games)

  • Kuminga: 16.5 minutes/game, 6.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg (22 games)

  • Moody: 14.8 minutes/game, 5.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.6 apg (21 games)

Only four Warriors players are averaging more than eight points per game, with Jordan Poole (17.7 ppg) the only real threat among Golden State's reserves. The result is a bench unit with a net rating of negative-5.2, which ranks 29th in the NBA ahead of only the San Antonio Spurs.

Reserve judgement

Net rating of Celtics' bench (T-4th in NBA)

2.8

Net rating of Warriors' bench (29th in NBA)

-5.2

Variation

Double

The Warriors are better than their current 13-13 record and should be a legitimate contender by the end of the season. If Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody can unlock their collective potential, they could provide a dangerous complement to the veteran core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins.

But in the present, the Celtics are the vastly superior team, thanks in large part to their ability to address their most glaring weakness from last year's Finals.