Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving have to be near perfect for the Dallas Mavericks to upset the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Source: Imago Images
Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving have to be near perfect for the Dallas Mavericks to upset the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Source: Imago Images

NBA finals preview: Dončić and Mavs seek to repeat 2011 magic

Basketball OlyBet 04.06.2024

The Dallas Mavericks have only won one NBA title, when Dirk Nowitzki led them to the coveted trophy in 2011. This year, the Texas team is back in the finals, with another European star leading the charge – Luka Dončić.

Although one of the world’s best basketball players has been in brilliant form during the playoffs, a very tough matchup awaits the Slovenian and his backcourt partner, Kyrie Irving. The Boston Celtics, who last won the NBA championship 16 years ago, have put together a team that excels both offensively and defensively.

Since the Mavericks play in the Western Conference and the Celtics in the Eastern Conference, the teams met just twice during the regular season. Boston won both games, including a 138-110 victory at home on the first day of March. Of course, regular-season battles shouldn’t be used to draw definitive conclusions for the finals series.

The Celtics have strong defensive weapons

There is much debate about whether Dončić and Irving are the best backcourt duo in NBA history. Maybe so, maybe no, but what is clear is that the European and American have been formidable in the playoffs. In 17 games, Dončić has averaged 28.8 points, 9.6 assists, and 8.8 rebounds, while Irving has averaged 22.8 points, 3.9 assists, and 5.2 rebounds, with a three-point shooting percentage of 42.1%.

To contain the Mavericks’ stars, the Celtics have two excellent defensive weapons. Jrue Holiday has been considered one of the best defenders in the league for years, and Derrick White has been selected for the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice in a row.

In the two regular-season games against the Celtics, Dončić and Irving scored a combined 112 points, accounting for 51% of the Mavericks’ points. Impressive numbers, but their overall efficiency was not overly encouraging – Dončić shot 47.2% from the field and Irving 41.8%.

It’s worth noting that Irving will be facing his former team in the finals. The 32-year-old Australian-born player represented the Celtics from 2017 to 2019 but did not achieve great success with the club.

The Celtics too have a notable player who will be facing his former team in this year’s finals. Kristaps Porziņģis was with the Mavericks from 2019 to 2022 and got his first playoff experience with them.

While Irving has been in excellent form in the playoffs, Porziņģis has not played for over a month. He injured his calf in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference first round against the Miami Heat, and it’s still unclear if and when he will return. However, the latest reports are positive, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Latvian is ready for the first game of the finals.

Standing at 218 centimeters, Porziņģis is considered a potential key player in the series, as he is not only a skilled offensive player but also a proficient shot-blocker. Given that the Mavericks’ big men, Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II, are athletic and always ready to finish lob passes from Dončić or Irving, Porziņģis’ presence might be crucial for the Celtics.

However, it’s a question of how many opportunities Dončić and Irving can create for their big men. Holiday and White are capable of applying immense ball pressure, and if they can significantly limit the Mavericks’ star duo, Gafford and Lively II might just be running back and forth without much impact on offense.

Oh, and speaking of Porziņģis, it’s worth noting that he is the second player from the Baltics to reach the finals. In 2007, Lithuanian Žydrūnas Ilgauskas made his mark with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s raining threes

The Celtics have been shooting and making a lot of three-pointers throughout the season, and in the playoffs, they have attempted the most (39.8) and made the most (14.6). Joe Mazzulla’s team has not lost any of the nine playoff games where they have made at least 14 three-pointers.

Three-point shooting also plays a significant role in the Mavericks’ game plan. For example, they have made 4.6 corner three-pointers per game in the playoffs, with P. J. Washington hitting 28 of them, the best in the playoffs by far. Derrick Jones Jr. is tied for second with 17 makes. If Washington manages to hit at least six corner threes against the Celtics in the series, he will break the playoff record held by Bruce Bowen since 2007.

A troubling fact for the Mavericks is that the Celtics have allowed few corner threes in the playoffs, averaging just 1.5 per game, with only 18% of opponents’ three-point attempts coming from the corners. In the two regular-season games, the Mavericks made only four corner threes.

Who’s the favorite?

Experts agree on one thing – the Celtics are the favorites. Their momentum hasn’t slowed down after a strong regular season and in the three playoff series so far, they have lost only two games, with both the Heat and the Cavaliers managing to win once against them.

The Celtics have been top-tier both defensively and offensively this season, and forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been excellent leaders. While the Celtics have made a lot of three-pointers, their game is not solely built around long-range shots, as they also score effectively inside the perimeter.

It’s also noteworthy that the Celtics have been dominant in rebounding in the playoffs, grabbing 53.6% of rebounds, the best in the league.

Although the numbers and opinions favor the Celtics, this means nothing, as the winner is determined on the court, not on paper. Moreover, in 2011, the Heat were heavy favorites against the Mavericks, even taking a 2-1 lead, but Dallas won three consecutive games to secure the title against a team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

And who better to challenge the favorites again than Jason Kidd? The current Mavericks head coach was their point guard 13 years ago.

Finals schedule:

  • Game 1: June 7 (3.30 EET) at Boston
  • Game 2: June 10 (3.00 EET) at Boston
  • Game 3: June 13 (3.30 EET) at Dallas
  • Game 4: June 15 (3.30 EET) at Dallas
  • Game 5: June 18 (3.30 EET) at Boston*
  • Game 6: June 21 (3.30 EET) at Dallas*
  • Game 7: June 24 (3.00 EET) at Boston*

* – If necessary.


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