- With the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry officially over, we will have a different matchup in the NBA Finals for the first time in years. What could emerge as the new replacement? The Crossover's staff takes a stab at predicting which two teams we'll watch in June.
The NBA season is almost here, which means it's time for The Crossover's NBA experts to dish their predictions before the action tips off. We've watched Warriors-Cavaliers meet up in June for four straight years, but with LeBron James in Los Angeles and a host of re-tooled contenders there will be a different Finals matchup for the first time in almost half a decade.
The Warriors remain a preeminent favorite among all of the major players in the Western Conference, so who will emerge from the Eastern Conference? The Celtics? The Sixers? Our writers make their predictions.
Chris Ballard: Warriors over Celtics in Six Games
Sustaining a dynasty is hard. Little stuff frays at the edges. Boredom sets in. Conflicts arise. The idea that the Warriors coasted last season gives the players and coaching staff too little credit. Teams like Golden State still overcome obstacles; they’re just different obstacles.
Odds are, the Warriors win again (they’re overwhelming favorites, according to the bookmakers). Golden State is too deep and talented and has too many guys who can’t turn off that OCD-level competitive thing. The front office, ownership, and staff are in lockstep (and share the OCD trait). Most seasons, that would be enough.
The Celtics, however, are almost uniquely-suited to derail a three-peat. Brad Stevens can pick you apart with a day of preparation. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with nearly a season to think ahead (The Sixers present the only other serious threat in the East; the idea that Toronto can make the Finals with a first-year coach and a first-year Kawhi seems far-fetched). Boston’s tireless, ornery, perimeter defenders will harass Steph and Klay while Al Horford—on par with Draymond for best defensive basketball IQ in the league—anchors and orchestrates. We’ll see patches of iso offense from Durant and Kyrie but otherwise expect a carnival of ball movement, cuts, and screens. We’ll read a lot of stories about Boston’s culture squaring off against Golden State’s, of Brad vs. Steve.
It will likely come down to a few shots here or there. Were the Warriors to lose, it could end up being a good thing for Golden State, long-term (not that Joe Lacob will see it this way), rallying the stars for another run or two, or providing cover for an Anthony Davis acquisition. But in the end, this is still the Warriors’ window. But Boston’s going to make a hell of a run.
Ben Golliver: Warriors over Celtics in Five Games
Picking anything besides Warriors-Celtics in the 2019 NBA Finals requires reaching or a healthy dose of wishful thinking. Golden State is the most talented, balanced and experienced contender in the West. Boston is the most talented, balanced and experienced contender in the East. Both teams have quality benches, strong stylistic flexibility and lineup versatility, elite coaches, committed owners, and savvy, opportunistic front offices. Taking everything together, they’ve both earned “favorite” status.
Of course, not all favorites are created equal. The Warriors are the mother of all favorites, seeking a fourth title in five years after racking up a 32–6 postseason record and a +11.6 postseason point differential since Kevin Durant’s arrival in 2016. Imagine a world in which the Rockets and Lakers could combine their rosters. The Warriors might still be favored over LeBron James, James Harden, Chris Paul and company. Imagine a world in which Denver and Utah could merge during a playoff series, with the Nuggets playing offense and the Jazz handling the defense. You guessed it. The Warriors might still be favored.
Boston is on shakier footing. Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving have all missed time in recent years, and all three are critical factors in potential postseason match-ups with Toronto and Philadelphia. If healthy, though, the Celtics have a bevy of wing defenders to use against Kawhi Leonard and a corps of big men who succeeded in frustrating and limiting Joel Embiid during the 2017 playoffs.
The bet here is that Boston proves to be the East’s steadiest outfit, securing home-court advantage and surviving a tough postseason gauntlet to reach the Finals. Meanwhile, the Warriors will skate through the West with a 12–2 record before knocking off the Celtics in an intriguing but anticlimactic five-game Finals.
Rob Mahoney: Warriors over Celtics in Seven Games
It’s a consensus pick for a reason: Golden State is a dynastic superpower, and Boston has the well of versatility and talent to give them a real run in the Finals. We have every reason to expect the Celtics to again be a top defensive team—and just the sort that can deny the Warriors the freewheeling shots they prefer. That alone could be enough to guarantee our most competitive Finals in years.
Toronto has a real chance to crash the proceedings, though considerably less margin for error. Forgive me for defaulting for the safety of the most probable. Houston, too, has a fair case, if also something to prove. I likely would have picked the Rockets to make it out of the West had they returned more or less the same team as last year. Instead, they’ve filtered out two reliable contributors in Trevor Ariza (who did as good a job defending Durant in the Western Conference finals as one could) and Luc Mbah a Moute for James Ennis and Carmelo Anthony. If there is a world where Houston can put Anthony on the floor without being systematically exploited by Golden State’s offense, I’m going to need to see it to believe it.
Rohan Nadkarni: Nuggets over Raptors in Seven Games
One of my colleagues told me I’d consumed too much “Colo kush” when I told him I may pick the Nuggets to make the conference finals, so I’m going one step further and picking them to make the Finals. Do I really think the Nuggets will usurp the Warriors? No. Not at all. But in honor of the departed Lee Jenkins, I’m going with a completely off the wall Finals prediction to save this roundtable from predictability. Let’s be honest—you can only read so many paragraphs about the Celtics and Warriors. So let me make the case for Denver and Toronto.
The Nuggets should have an incredible offense if they stay healthy. Paul Millsap will help cover for Nikola Jokic’s defensive woes. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris will both make the leap. And some more depth on the bench will keep the starters from wearing out. Combine this with the Warriors maaaaaybe wearing down and turning on Boogie—while the Rockets take a step back—and the Nuggets can sneak into the championship round.
Meanwhile, Toronto—last season’s No. 1 seed in the East—replaced DeMar DeRozan with someone who is better in every facet of the game. Is replacing DeMar with Kawhi Leonard a more important addition than Gordon Hayward returning to the Celtics? If you squint hard enough, an argument appears. The Raptors are going to be great if Kawhi buys in, and Nick Nurse could be a little more creative with his lineups than Dwane Casey. (Also, in this dream world, Danny Green has returned to the player he was in 2014.)
So there’s my completely nonsensical Finals pick. It’s probably going to be the Warriors and the Celtics, and Kevin Durant may emotionlessly rain down threes in another lopsided series. But at least for a brief few moments, together we imagined a different reality.
Andrew Sharp: Warriors over Celtics in Six Games
The Warriors are going to be amazing again. Anyone who picks against them is either looking for attention, overthinking it, or both. Having said that ... this Celtics team should be the most credible threat Golden State has seen since Kevin Durant signed two summers ago. On offense, they can score from all over the floor. On defense, there is an endless supply of switchable wings who can help muck up the Warriors offense the same way the Rockets did a year ago. Kyrie Irving has had more success against these Warriors than any guard in the league, while Brad Stevens has always had a knack for bothering great Warriors teams, and that was true even before he had a great Celtics team.
Bottom line: The Warriors will win, but this year's Finals will be a lot more interesting than last year.
Jeremy Woo: Warriors over Celtics in Five Games
I think I’ve written some variation of this paragraph four years in a row, but the Warriors are going to win the Finals again. The fatigue is real, but so is their dominance, and assuming some baseline level of health, I don’t think anyone is touching them. As close as the Rockets came last season, perhaps a Chris Paul hamstring away from ending Golden State’s hegemony, Houston will be challenged to replicate those results and the Warriors, as usual, will turn things on when it counts, anyway. The rest of the West has gotten deeper, but there’s still no high-end team with a real change to swing four of seven against them.
This feels like the year Boston makes everything click at once. I’d hedge my bets on their depth, continuity and overall stability winning out in the postseason, and as Jayson Tatum blossoms into a star, Gordon Hayward returns to health and Kyrie Irving puts down long-term roots, it’s hard not to think a multi-year window is opening here. All things as they stand, I believe in the Celtics a little more than the Sixers, who probably have more growing pains to deal with, and the Raptors, who will make things complicated but need 100% of Kawhi to win the East. Regardless of who comes out, it’s hard to feel great about anyone beating Golden State. Yep, here we go again.