3 reasons Mavericks can win NBA Finals over Boston Celtics

For most of this season, the Dallas Mavericks looked like they didn’t have enough talent around Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving to breakthrough in a loaded Western Conference. That all changed at the Feb. 8 trade deadline, when Dallas — sitting at No. 8 in the West at the time — mortgaged their future in two bold trades that saved the season.

The Mavericks are now in the NBA Finals for the first time since their epic championship run in 2011 behind Dirk Nowitzki. Like the 2011 series against LeBron James’ Miami Heat, the Mavs will once again be the underdog against a more talented team in the Boston Celtics. Like 2011, the Mavs still have a chance to win.

Dallas acquired P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford in separate deals at the trade deadline for a pair of future first round picks. Suddenly, the Mavs had the defensive backbone necessarily to complement Doncic and Irving’s electric playmaking. Very few experts will pick the Mavs to win this series, but there’s a pathway for them to do it. Here are three reasons why the Mavericks can beat Boston win the 2024 NBA Finals.

1. Luka Doncic can play like the best player in the world

The Celtics were clearly the best team in the NBA all season with a league-high 64 wins and +11.7 net-rating. Boston has the best five-man lineup in the NBA … but the Mavericks obviously have the best individual player in this series.

It was only a matter of time before Doncic reached the NBA Finals. As a teenager in Europe, he led his team to a championship in EuroLeague, was named league and playoff MVP, and powered Slovenia to an unlikely 2017 EuroBasket gold medal. Three teams somehow passed on Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft, which allowed the Mavs to trade up for him. He’s been one of the best players in the league since his rookie season. Now 25 years old, he’s making his case as the best player in the world — a title that has belonged to Nikola Jokic.

Doncic has not played at his top level for most of these playoffs. A knee sprain has limited his output to some extent … but he’s still averaging 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game in Dallas’ march to the Finals in 17 games so far. Even on one healthy leg, Doncic has manufactured some incredible moments this postseason.

The cleanest path to a Mavs championship is Doncic being far and away the best player on the floor. That won’t be easy with another First-Team All-NBA player on the other side in Jayson Tatum. Still, while Tatum’s best performance would put him on the brink of being a top-5 player in the league, Luka is capable of playing like the best player in the world. Boston has so many great defenders to throw at Doncic, but he has the skill to burn all of them.

2. The Mavs have more length and athleticism than Boston has seen in playoffs

The Celtics have had a very easy path to the NBA Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury took out arguably their top challenger in the Bucks, Joel Embiid’s late season injury diminished the 76ers, and half the Knicks’ roster was banged up by the end of the playoffs. Even Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton missed half the conference finals. Boston’s playoff path doesn’t take anything away from what it accomplished this season, but it does mean Dallas will be their toughest test yet.

The Celtics haven’t seen a team with the length and athleticism of Dallas yet on this playoff run. Around their two offensive superstars, the Mavs had put together a lineup loaded with elite run and jump athletes with long wingspans who can deter Boston at the rim and challenge their three-point attempts with hard closeouts.

Washington is 6’7, 230 pounds with a near 7’4 wingspan, and he will be used on Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum for most of the series. Derrick Jones Jr. might be the best run-and-jump athlete in league, a pogo stick defender who provides supplemental rim protection and closes out hard on threes. Then there’s two-headed center combination of Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford. The rookie Lively is 7’1, has a massive wingspan, and has been Dallas’ third best player on this run. Gafford is another bouncy shot-blocker who ensures 48 minutes of stout rim protection. Don’t be surprised if Maxi Kleber is a factor in this series, too.

Everyone on Dallas knows their role. Luka and Kyrie handle the offensive scoring and playmaking, and everyone else defends, catches lobs, and runs the floor. The Celtics won’t be able to bully most of Dallas’ defenders, and that will make their job offensively harder than it’s been so far in these playoffs.

3. The Celtics can beat themselves at times

The Celtics are objectively an amazing team. If they win the championship, there’s a statistical argument that these Celtics are one of the better teams in league history. So why does the Celtics’ greatness feel so unconvincing at times?

Boston has a tendency to get stuck in a rut offensively. It typically happens late in the game if the score is close. Boston’s drive and kick offense ranked No. 1 in the NBA in percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range. The Celtics always want to win the math battle and that’s admirable, but sometimes it feels like they should put their head down and get to the basket.

During the regular season, Boston ranked No. 26 in the league in rim frequency, according to Cleaning the Glass. Their 29.1 percent rim frequency has dropped slightly in the playoffs. They only ranked No. 25 in free throw rate.

We know the Celtics want to take about half their shots from three. That’s a great strategy over the course of a long regular season, but in a short series a couple cold shooting nights could be the difference.

The Celtics should win this series on paper, but it’s hard to discount Dallas for several reasons. They have the best player in the series, they’ve already pulled two big upsets in these playoffs, and they have a second star in Kyrie Irving who can make the toughest shots imaginable. Dallas has to play something close to a perfect series to pull this off, but it’s possible.

My head says Boston should win this series in six. My gut says Mavs in seven. Either way, Dallas has the pieces to actually do this.

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