NBA Finals Preview and Prediction: Can Boston land record 18th title, or will Luka secure his 1st?

With the NBA Finals set to tip off on Thursday night, the storylines are endless.

Kyrie Irving and Kristaps Porziņģis battling against their former teams. Two uncrowned head coaches going head-to-head. Boston going for a league-record total of championships. stars aiming to get their first ring.

The Celtics, who start the series with home-court advantage, are favored to win the NBA Finals. If they do win, Boston will set a record for total NBA titles. They’re currently tied with the rival Los Angeles Lakers with 17 NBA championships. But it would be the first for this specific squad, as the Celtics haven’t won a championship since 2008. Only only their second in nearly 40 years.

In fact, regardless of which team wins this Finals, the championship will be a first-time coronation for some of the league’s best players. Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić and Jaylen Brown are among the league’s brightest stars right now, and none of them have a ring yet. This will be Dončić’s first NBA Finals.

So, how do the Celtics and Mavericks stack up? Dallas is the sixth team in NBA history to make it to the Finals as a fifth seed or lower. They’ve delivered on the promise of being the scariest lower-seeded team, eliminating the No. 4 Clippers, No. 1 Thunder and No. 3 Timberwolves. Their two stars, Dončić and Kyrie Irving, have proven to be elite closers.

On the other hand, Celtics coach Joe Mazulla has never lost to the Mavericks. He is 4-0 against Dallas head coach Jason Kidd. In their two matchups during the regular season, Boston put away Dallas by nine points in January and 28 points in March. And that was with Dallas at full strength both times.

Let’s take a deep dive on both teams and what each of them need to do to walk out NBA champions.

Boston Celtics- Experience

The Celtics are not exactly the same team they were in the 2022 finals, but most of the important pieces are still intact, with Tatum and Brown leading the way. As Boston and the Mavericks addressed reporters during finals media day Wednesday at TD Garden, the Celtics’ recent finals experience — and the benefit it could provide them over the next three weeks — was a main topic of discussion.

Most of the Celtics who will take the floor Thursday have been in the finals before, hoping that the pain they experienced at the hands of the Warriors was needed so that they can win this time.

“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” said Tatum, who averaged 26.9 points this season and is scoring 26.0 points per game in the playoffs. “There’s a lesson to be learned in every situation. I do feel a lot different this time, this go-around, two years later. I’m excited for the opportunity for us to get the job done.”

Boston’s last finals triumph was in 2008, when Tatum was 10 years old. Brown, who has one more year of NBA service than Tatum, has been a part of six Celtics teams to reach the conference finals in eight years. Only twice has the duo gotten to the finals.

Derrick White played serious minutes for Boston’s last finals team, as did Al Horford and Payton Pritchard. Joe Mazzulla was an assistant coach for Boston in 2022. Brad Stevens was in his first season as team executive, having been elevated from his post as head coach.

After falling in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last May, Stevens added Jrue Holiday — a champion in 2021 with the Milwaukee Bucks — and former Dallas center Kristaps Porziņģis over the offseason. Together, this group blew the rest of the NBA away to the tune of 64 regular-season wins, the most in the league.

While this group hasn’t won it all together, they have swam in this deep end of the pool for awhile now. That experience should be a plus in their favor.

Play 5-Out exclusively

One of the reasons the Mavs turned their defense around is because Daniel Gafford began commanding the middle for them. That’ll be hard to do when he has to cover Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford on the perimeter. Boston needs to stretch that defense as much as possible and force Dallas to help off shooters to cover the rim.

The Mavericks have faced 7 footers who stretch the floor all postseason in Chet Holmgrem and KAT. But those teams don’t also feature multiple ball handlers and a team full of shooters across the floor. The Boston offense can put immense pressure on the Dallas defense particularly when they’re knocking down those shots at a 40% clip.

Dare role players to be heroes. 

You’re never going to completely take away Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić, even with Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to throw at them. It helps having that many capable defenders but still.

I would force P.J. Washington to replicate what he did against OKC. I would also dare Derrick Jones Jr. to increase his shot volume. The Celtics should try to make Jason Kidd believe Tim Hardaway Jr. is an answer at some point. Make a role player come up big in every game.

If you get beat by the supporting cast then so be it. But you can not allow Irving for Luka explode for 35 plus each night.

Attack Dončić as much as possible. 

I’m not sure how much the 25-year-old Dončić wears down anymore, but the Celtics should go against him when he’s on defense for two reasons:

1) He’s going to be the weakest defender Dallas has on the floor in pretty much every possession he’s out there.

2) If you can take his legs or stamina from him by the end of a close game, then maybe you have to deal with only Irving’s in those big moments? A defense can dream …

Any little edge you can gain in that battle, you must execute on. It’s the oldest trick in the book for a reason.

Dallas Mavericks:

The role players must produce. This sounds very basic, but the basic things can win you basketball games. It starts with P.J. Washington, who didn’t shoot the ball particularly well against the Clippers or Wolves. But his moments against the Thunder helped Dallas advance. He’s going to need to let it fly and hit. And we may need to see Derrick Jones Jr. take even more 3-pointers while hoping his playoff success (39.6 percent) holds.

Irving and Doncic will have all world defenders to deal with all series and can’t do it alone. If the role players can show up just enough, their stars will take it home for them.

Put Kristaps Porziņģis in as many perimeter actions as possible. The Mavericks have to brutally test that calf muscle as much as possible, which can be done by making him cover as much of Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončićon the perimeter as possible. Porziņģis may ultimately be fine and ready to go at 100 percent, but Dallas has to make him prove that with his movement on defense.

Hide Dončić on defense as much as possible. Boston will try to wear Dončić down by putting him in all the defensive actions it can scheme. The Celtics have five guys on the floor at all times who can attack without losing their identity on offense. The less Dončić has to defend, the fresher he’ll be for closing games. It’s more about conserving energy than ability.

Expect Luka on the bigs Boston elects to play, or either Jrue or White. Any minutes where he is switched on to Tatum or Brown can be problematic.

Stop the 3-point barrage. The Celtics tend to lose when they don’t make their 3-pointers, which is rare for them. In wins, they hit 46.5 percent of their corner 3s and have a 39.1 percent mark on above-the-break looks. In losses, those figures plummet to 31.6 percent from the corners and 32.6 percent above the break. Even the Mavericks can’t probably shoot with Boston, so they have to limit the barrage.

The Celtics will live and die with the 3. It is their biggest flaw and main question mark as to why I feel they haven’t already been a NBA champion. Their shooting has improved year to year, but in the biggest moments and the tougher defense makes winning that way nearly impossible. Even the Warriors had to score at all 3 levels to win while employing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

If the Mavs hold the Celtics 3 point totals in a reasonable range, good things will happen for them.

Pick and Roll to a championship

The Dallas Mavericks’ pick-and-roll game is easily among the best in the NBA, especially when two All-Star players, Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, are powering it.

The dynamics of Dallas’ pick-and-roll go beyond just the two guards; they have rolling options in Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II. The floor is spread with shooting from P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones Jr. and Maxi Kleber.

The other thing about the Mavs pick-and-roll is that it comes at defenses in several ways. Sometimes, it is a 1-5 pick-and-roll at the top or off the side. Another form is the double drag, followed by the Spain pick-and-rolls. These variations keep defenses guessing and scrambling while Dallas finds its way to the rim.

During the regular season, the Mavs had a points per possession of 1.02 in pick-and-rolls, including passes. In the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas’ points per possession in pick-and-rolls was 1.14.

Dončić and Irving feasted in the pick-and-roll. They got to the rim and their midrange, stepbacks and 3-point shots all series long. They found Gafford and Lively for lobs and kick outs for 3-point attempts. In particular, the Mavs have used the pick-and-roll to create more corner 3-pointers than any playoff team.

The Wolves tried everything defensively against the Mavs’ pick-and-rolls. They switched, trapped, hedged, dropped and even played zone, and nothing worked for them.

Here are a few things to expect from the Mavs’ pick-and-roll in the finals. Look for Dallas to target Al Horford whenever he is on the floor. Boston likes to play the pick-and-roll two-on-two with the other three defenders staying home on shooters. This is how they limit corner 3s, but that might allow Dončić to get floaters off easily.

How the Celtics defend the Mavericks in the pick-and-roll could determine who’s hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Prediction: Dallas in 7

Why? Because Fuck Boston.

The cinema it would be for Irving to return to Boston, stomp on that damn center court in a Game 7 win.

Luka earning his first ring in what has already been a HOF career would be special. Doing so while telling Celtics fans to cry would be even more amazing.

In all seriousness, this has all the makings to be a classic NBA Finals. The star power, storylines and actual basketball will be amazing.

The Celtics actually have the better and deeper team. I can admit that.

But I trust the Mavs two stars more than Boston’s stars. I think Kidd is a better coach than Mazulla.

Oh and as a Lakers fan, I can’t under any circumstance root for any Celtics success.

Maybe I’m blinded but Mavs in 7, and more importantly for my parlays to pay out nicely.

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