Friday, May 31, 2024

Celtics to face-off against Mavericks in 2024 NBA Finals

The Celtics finally know who they'll face in the NBA Finals and it's the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday night to win the Western Conference Finals 4-1.

Boston, who have been resting since they clinched the East with a four-game sweep over the Indiana Pacers Monday, will look to raise the franchise's 18th championship banner when the best-of-7 series gets underway on June 6.

The script couldn't have been written any better for Jayson Tatum and his co-star Jaylen Brown having to go through Luka Dončić and old friend Kyrie Irving to finally get over that hump to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Celtics (64-18) have had the best record in basketball all season long, including going 12-2 up to this point in the playoffs -- regardless of how you view their route as being "easy" or not -- as they prepare to host the fifth seeded Mavs (50-32), who just so happen to be playing their best and have flipped that switch since their trades at the deadline.

Still, the story-line will obviously be the return of Irving to Boston, as this is the first time the C's will face the All-Star guard since they swept the Brooklyn Nets on their way to the Finals in 2022. The former Celtic has been a villain on Causeway Street over the last five years.

From promising to re-sign with the Celtics in 2019, that led taking his talents to Brooklyn -- where Irving eliminated his ex-teammates from the playoffs but not before stomping on the team logo at center court back in 2021, to flipping the bird on multiple occasions to the TD Garden faithful -- the drama seemed endless with the man who seemingly wanted to be the last to wear No. 11 in green and see it go up into the rafters one day.

Irving, who by the way has gone winless against Boston in 10 games since the said logo stomp of Lucky the Leprechaun, sang a much different tune when these two teams played last three months ago.
"A lot of the attention is on me, in terms of just the fandom," Irving said in his postgame comments after Boston's 138-110 win over the Mavs on March 1. "It's been six years. You gotta love it. But rightfully so. They have a right to boo. From my career record against them the last few games, I haven't won. Until I beat them, they have all the right to continue to boo. I think that's what makes the theatrics of sports and competitive sports fun. Just gotta embrace it. It's part of it."
These days it seems like Irving is in a much better head-space even if he has truly embraced being the bad guy or not in Boston -- which remains to be seen come the NBA Finals. Either way, his 22.8 points on 48.5% shooting (42.1% from 3-point range) has been tops since his last playoff run in Cleveland and it doesn't hurt to have a running mate in the backcourt with the last name Dončić either.

Boston will have their hands full with the 25-year-old league MVP candidate, as Dončić is putting up 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists, which are all team-highs in the postseason -- despite his scoring (33.9 points a league-best) and shooting average taking a dip from 48.7% (38.2% from 3) in the regular season to 43.8% (34.3% from 3) throughout the playoffs.

While Tatum (26.0 points) and East Finals MVP in Brown (25.0 points) can handle their own on the offense end, the depth of Derrick White (17.8 points), Jrue Holiday (12.7 points) and Al Horford (10.0 points) will definitely have to continue to take the pressure off their two stars if the Celtics don't want to make it hard on themselves.

Meanwhile, the status of Kristaps Porzingis (soleus strain) is still up in the air, but recent reports point to the seven-footer getting closer to suiting up in the NBA Finals after being out since April 29. The veteran big man and former Maverick could be the Celtics X-factor if healthy and the difference maker in attempting to contain the lob-effect of either P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford in the paint for Dallas -- while spreading the floor and of course the pick and roll on being an alley-oop threat in his own right.

Defense is the name of the game in this series, whoever plays it has the best shot to win it all -- meaning can the Mavericks limit Boston's 3-point shooting and or can the Celtics slow down the guard play of Dallas running down hill and force turnovers into transition offense?

We shall see, as the Celtics host Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals next Thursday and ABC has the tip-off at 8:30 pm ET.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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