‘Sometimes you’ve got to pinch yourself’: Celtics, Warriors stars speak ahead of NBA Finals

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The Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors may soon be at odds on the court, but off it, their respect for their opponent runs deep.

That was one of the themes as players addressed the media on Wednesday, a day before the NBA Finals tip off in San Francisco. For the Celtics, it will be the first time their stars have played in a championship series. The Warriors, meanwhile, hope it will be a return to form for a core that’s been plagued by injuries since their last Finals appearance in 2019.

For Celtics star Jayson Tatum, the opportunity is a dream come true.

“Every kid can imagine themselves being in the NBA and being in the Finals, but actually living out your dream in real time is a surreal feeling,” Tatum said. “Sometimes you’ve got to pinch yourself.”

Tatum is coming off a banner year where he was named to the All-NBA first team and scooped up the first MVP award given in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Guard Marcus Smart, this season’s Defensive Player of the Year, said the team has a “special bond” that extends beyond basketball. He also discussed the ankle injury that has nagged him throughout the playoffs.

“It hurt, but my mom always told me, ‘If you’re going to be on the court, you can’t make excuses. If you’re hurt, then sit your tail down,’” Smart said. “So if I’m going to be out there, no matter how much pain I’m in, I can’t let it affect me.”

Smart tipped his cap to Warriors Coach Steve Kerr for his leadership and passion for social issues, referencing Kerr’s fiery speech after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“[Kerr’s] done a great job with these Warriors over the years,” Smart said.

Warriors players harped on the importance of staying grounded as they try to recapture the magic of the team that won three NBA championships in the 2010s.

“Staying hungry, embracing and appreciating each process,” forward Draymond Green said.

“Never let myself get too bigheaded,” guard Steph Curry later echoed. “This is the ultimate goal, to get back to this stage.”

Green and Smart were both asked about the comparisons to each other, including by Kerr, who called Smart the “guard version of Draymond.”

“[Smart] really thinks the game. You can see it in the way he plays – he’s really teaching guys,” Green said.

“It’s an honor to be compared to a guy of Draymond’s caliber,” Smart said. “A champion, a great leader, great defender.”

The series has been pitched as the veteran Warriors going up against the young, hungry Celtics – Tatum and Jaylen Brown are only the fourth 25-and-under duo in the past 40 years to make the Finals while leading the team in scoring – but Curry threw cold water on that “old head” narrative.

“I feel like I’m still in my prime,” Curry said.

And the Celtics know what’s expected of them from a fanbase that’s used to winning.

“We play in a city that has no patience for excuses,” Brown said. “So we didn’t make any.”

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