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NBA Finals Preview

The NBA Finals are here and it’s shaping up to be a beauty with the best team in the league going against the best player remaining.

The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks will meet in the 2023-24 NBA Finals.

For the Celtics, they were always expected to be here. They opened the season among the favourites at $4.50 to win the title and enter the finals at $1.40 to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Elite on both sides of the ball, the Celtics strung together a 64-win season to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference – a whopping 14 games ahead of the second-seeded New York Knicks.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks have taken a longer path to contending. It wasn’t until the trade deadline that they started to enter the conversation. However, they quickly looked like giant killers in the Western Conference and have since worked their way to the finals from the 5th seen (50-32).

Few would argue against the Celtics being the better team. They’re deep and have been doing it on both sides of the ball all season. However, in Luka Doncic, the Mavericks will run out with the best player. So often, a series is decided late and decided by individual heroics.

The Conference Finals flopped, but the championship looks set to be decided across six or seven games.

Key Matchup: Dallas’ Defence v The Most Efficient Offence in NBA History

The Mavericks defence finished the regular season ranked 17th in the NBA allowing 115.4 points per 100 possessions. However, as the trades went through and the players on the court developed cohesion, the Mavericks became a defensive powerhouse. Across the last 15 games of the regular season, Dallas’ 106.1 defensive rating is good for the best in the league.

While the Mavericks’ defence has improved, they will have to take it to another level if they’re to consistently contain the Celtics. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are elite individual scorers, but it’s the complementary pieces, the overall offence, that have the Celtics as favourites to win the series.

NBA offence is going through the roof at the moment. Still, this Celtics offence is currently listed as the most efficient in NBA history.

Boston finished the regular season scoring 123.2 points per 100 possessions. Their 47.1% three-point attempt rate led the NBA while they shot 38.8% from beyond the arc (2nd). They’ve continued to shoot at will from long-range in the playoffs, with 43.8% of their attempts being three-pointers. They’ve outscored their opposition from deep in 11 of their 14 playoff games to date. Defences struggle to contain Boston’s proficiency from three-point range and they’re knocking them down too much for the opposing offence to keep up.

The Celtics aren’t limited to three-point shots despite their five-out approach. They still found 24 shots in the restricted area per game throughout the regular season, connecting at a 70% clip for the fourth-best mark in the NBA. That mark has improved further to 75% in the playoffs.

Dallas has improved defensively, but the Boston offence is a different beat. As much as we can trust Doncic and Irving to win them games late, it’s up to the defence to get the Mavericks in position to do so.

Players To Watch

Kristaps Porzingis; will he, or won’t he play?

The Celtics have managed without him. Their $1.39 to win Game 1 is likely based on the fact that he is close to returning and has spent the week taking the right steps to become available.

While the Celtics have made it this far in the post-season without him, he’d be a massive inclusion in the NBA Finals.

Porzingis is a key element to their five-out offence. He adds another dimension to their game, averaging 20.1 points per game and shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc. He unlocks the team on both ends of the floor for the Celtics to be 46-15 with him on the court this season. At 7″2′ Porzingis knocks down three-pointers, scores in the paint, adds to their offensive menu with his post-game, and defends the rim.

There is the former Maverick element too…

“They do not like Porzingis in Dallas… Luka did not like playing with him, there is an actual beef there.” – Chandler Parsons

Similarly, Kyrie Irving is a former Celtic who will thrive while playing in front of a hostile crowd. He has become one of the biggest villains in the city since leaving in 2019. While Irving is the first to admit that he wasn’t his best self throughout his tenure in Boston, he returns as part of the Mavericks and in fine form on the court.

Stan Van Gundy claimed Irving, alongside Doncic, is “arguably the best offensive backcourt in the history of the NBA.”

He does so on the basis that you can give either player the ball and know they can create offence for themselves and others. We know Doncic will get his numbers, but Irving is the best teammate he’s ever had. Only the 2019-20 partnership of James Harden (34.3 points per game) and Russell Westbrook (27.2) combined for more points per game than Doncic (33.9) and Irving’s (25.6) 59.5 points per game. The difference, and the reason Irving is so crucial to this series, is his ability to take over a game. He’s one of the best clutch players in the NBA, and if the Celtics find a way to shut down Doncic, they’ll have Irving to deal with.

NBA Finals Prediction

Let this be the last time it’s mentioned: NBA championship-winning teams typically feature a top-five player in the league.

Luka Doncic is the only Top 5 player remaining.

Doncic has the best teammate he’s ever had alongside him in Irving, while the supporting cast seems to improve every game. Towards the back end of the season, they’ve become one of the best defensive teams in the league and will be favourites to come out of any clutch minutes on top.

However, the Celtics have been here and done it before. They’ve been pipped by a top player in the NBA Finals before. They’re a better team this time around, though. Elite on both sides of the ball, they shoot the lights out from beyond the arc and are well-suited to defend Dallas on the perimeter.

The series seems destined for six games. Although, Boston’s strange record at home in the playoffs across the last three seasons is a concern and they’ll give Dallas a chance to pinch one. Expect the Mavericks to keep it close and test the Celtics’ defence in the series opener.

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