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5 NBA Finals takeaways so far from Celtics-Mavericks

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2024 NBA Finals - Game Two
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Here’s what we’ve learned about the 2024 NBA Finals so far.

The Boston Celtics were a heavy favorite entering the 2024 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, and through two games they’ve cemented the idea that they’re the better team. The Celtics proved they could deliver an early knockout punch in Game 1, when they blitzed the Mavs from the opening tip and turned the game into a rout before halftime. In Game 2, the Celtics showed that they can win even when they’re having their best offensive night.

The Celtics knocked off the Mavericks, 105-98, in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night. Boston leads the series 2-0, sending the Mavericks back to Dallas in desperation mode. A playoff series supposedly doesn’t start until the home team loses a game, but it sure feels like the Mavs are encountering problems without attainable solutions right now.

The first two games of the 2024 NBA Finals were totally different, but both ended in Boston wins. Here’s how we’ve learned about the series so far.

1. The Celtics can win even when Jayson Tatum struggles to score

Don’t let people tell you Tatum played poorly in Game 2. His ability to drive the ball into the teeth of the defense and get Dallas’ defense in rotation started the cascade for so many easy Boston buckets. Tatum hit the glass (nine rebounds), dimed up his teammates all night (12 assists), and stood tough defensively.

Still, Tatum shot 6-of-22 from the field. This is the type of game that could have gotten him roasted for not being a true Tier 1 superstar, but the reality at the center of this Boston team is that they don’t need him to be. Boston can win even when Tatum has a poor shooting night because the rest of the Celtics are talented enough to pick up the slack.

Jaylen Brown’s physical downhill driving is a constant for Boston. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White feel like the most overqualified third and fourth options in the league. Kristaps Porzingis takes the Celtics to the next level when he’s playing well, as we saw in Game 1, but even that isn’t necessary for a Boston win.

The Celtics are so much bigger than one player. This is a truly cohesive team on both ends of the floor, and they showed it in Game 2.

2. The Celtics can win even when they don’t shoot well

The Celtics shot 10-of-39 from three. If there was ever a formula for the Mavs winning a game in Boston, you can start with the Celtics having a cold shooting night. Boston relies on the three-point shot more than any team in the league, ranking No. 1 in three-point attempts and No. 2 in percentage during the regular season. As much as the Mavs love ripping threes, it’s not the only way they can win.

The Celtics can get the Mavs in rotation so easily thanks to their calvary of skilled drivers and ball handlers. White and Holiday can put the ball on the floor and attack defenses off the bounce whenever a lane opens up. Tatum and Brown have each grown immensely as playmakers over the last two years, and already put so much pressure on defenses as scorers. Oh yeah, the Celtics can tilt the math in their favor from the free throw line, too, and in Game 2 they sank 19-of-20 freebies.

3. The Mavs can’t afford a bad Kyrie game

Kyrie Irving seemed so at peace as the Mavericks tore through the Western Conference to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals. His blend of space creation and shot-making was supposed to make him scheme-proof even against the best defenders in the world.

It hasn’t happened through the first two games. Irving has needed 37 shots just to score 28 points thus far. The Celtics’ group of physical defenders have completely shut him down, and Dallas’ offense hasn’t been able to find a rhythm because of it.

Boston has so many good defenders in the lineup that it believes it doesn’t need to help against Doncic and Irving. While Luka eventually forced their hand with his incredible Game 2 performance, Irving hasn’t been able to get Boston to adjust to him. Kyrie isn’t able to burn Boston off the dribble, he’s not making his open spot-up threes, and he’s not able to get hot as a pull-up shooter. Irving carries so a big creation role next to Doncic that Dallas doesn’t really have a Plan C for when one of their stars is playing poorly. If Irving doesn’t turn it around quickly, this series will be over.

4. Luka Doncic can’t do it by himself

Doncic was absolutely cooking in the first half of Game 2. He entered halftime with 23 points, but the Mavs were still down by three. Doncic was hitting some extremely difficult shots and doling out some incredible passes, but it’s impossible to beat a team like the Celtics all by yourself.

The non-Luka Mavericks shot 2-for-17 from three-point in Game 2. That’s a ghastly number. The Mavs are mostly filling out the lineup with bigger, longer, more athletic players who are supposed to get stops around Doncic and Irving, but right now those players are getting burned defensively and don’t have the skill to make Boston pay offensively. It feels like Dallas needs either Derrick Jones Jr. or PJ Washington to get super hot from three (as Washington did in the second round series vs. the Thunder), but right now the Celtics are leaving those guys open and they can’t punish it.

5. The Celtics’ defense is the real MVP

The Celtics’ defensive game plan starts with taking away corner threes, sagging way off Washington and Jones on above the break spot-ups, and applying early ball pressure to Dallas stars to drain the shot clock. It’s working so well through the first two games. After hold the Mavs to a terrible 96.7 offensive rating in Game 1, Boston held Dallas to a 105.4 offensive rating in Game 2. Both of those numbers would have finished dead last in the NBA in the regular season.

Boston has two super tough defensive guards in White and Holiday who patrol the court like the NFL’s scariest duo of pass rushers. It has rim protection with Horford, a switchable big defender in Tatum, and a barrel-chested on-ball stopper in Brown. There are no weak points in this lineup ... especially not with the league-worst offensive efficiency Dallas is taking right now.


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