In-depth analysis Year IV: Boston vs Dallas NBA Finals breakdown

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

It’s glad to be back.

After almost a year since the Denver Nuggets won the NBA Championship against the Miami Heat, another grand finals saga is yet to unfold in this year’s season of the big boys’ league.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am Leobert Julian A. de la Peña, and this is the fourth edition of the Daily Guardian’s yearly NBA Finals breakdown.

Two interesting storylines between two storied franchises will headline this season’s NBA Finals matchup.

Can the Boston Celtics finally get over the hump and clinch that elusive Larry O’ Brien trophy? Or will the Dallas Mavericks cap off the year with a cinderella title run?

During the past three breakdowns that I made, I focused on the teams’ tendencies, go-to executions, and keys to winning their favorable matchups.

This year, let’s try to make it more interesting. I dove deep into both squad’s specific keys to winning the title, while also studying their film in their respective playoff runs.

Before we begin, let me present to you the two games that played against each other in the regular season.

The first time that both teams met was last January 23, 2024, when the Celtics visited the Dallas Mavericks on a Western Conference road trip.

Here’s the rundown of what transpired during their first meeting:

  • The Celtics won the game, 119-110.
  • Dallas had more field goals converted than Boston but the Celtics went 22/30 from the free throw line compared to the Mavericks’ 10/14 shooting from the charity stripe.
  • Jayson Tatum was phenomenal, dropping 39 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks.
  • Luka Doncic posted a triple-double, stuffing the stat sheets with 33 points, 18 rebounds, 13 dimes, and two steals.

On March 2, 2024, the Mavericks attempted to level their head-to-head series but the Celtics scored a more convincing win than their first dub.

  • The Celtics won by a wide margin, 138-110.
  • Boston posted a 48% shooting from the rainbow area, going for 21/43.
  • Seven players from Boston reached the double-digit mark led by Tatum who once again dominated Dallas’ defense with 32 points and eight rebounds.
  • During this game, Daniel Gafford and PJ Washington, Dallas’ two key acquisitions late in the season, already played for the Mavericks.

With the 2-0 sweep that the Celtics handed the Mavericks in the regular season, it is with no doubt that the Western Conference champions will seek for revenge in the Best-of-Seven finals series.

Without further ado, shall we begin?

First to be presented are the key main points for Dallas in this series.

  • Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively must be in their A-game in all the matchups against Boston.
  • These two centers are no doubt the spark providers for the Mavericks during their deep playoff run. With their finishing ability above the rim, their athleticism, and their defensive prowess, Gafford and Lively supplied the much-needed energy that the team needed. So why do they need to be in their A-game? With the type of offense that Boston played against the Dallas in the regular season, the C’s liked to attack Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the post. If Boston stays with “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” then both Gafford and Lively must be alert helping the weak side if the Boston post offensive players will have several clear attempts to the basket.
  • Dallas’ shooters must be ready and must always deliver.
  • My prediction in this series is that, in some possessions, the Celtics will try to blitz Doncic when he handles the rock. So what happens if they execute this defensive tactic? Someone will always be open if the kick-out pass will be timed well. With the court vision that the young Slovenian star possesses, an open shooter from the corner or the elbow will always be found if Boston’s help switch is slow.
  • Extended offense means more spacing and more open shots.
  • Through Dallas’ playoff journey from the Clippers to Minnesota, it is without a doubt that Jason Kidd would like to start his offense in the extended area (near the logo) if Doncic and Kyrie Irving operate. In most of their possessions if the screener already meets the ball handler at the top, plenty of options will already stem out, either both guards will feed the trailing big for a lob, rifle pass the ball to the corner for a shooter, or decide to put their defender at their back and shoot the open floater in the rim.
  • Kyrie’s defense will be badly needed in this series.
  • During Dallas’ series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Clippers, Kyrie Irving showed off his much-improved defensive game. May it be stealing the ball in the passing lanes or bodying up a much larger defender than him, Irving proved he can step up to challenge and provide the intangibles. However, this is the first time that the Mavericks will be encountering a team that has five guys who can post up down the block. A little preview during their regular season matchup, Irving had a hard time keeping up with Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum in the shaded lane. If Irving will be targeted throughout the series, the crafty ball handler must be wise in defending Boston. Dallas can even call for quick switches to avoid him getting into foul trouble.
  • Luka must stay locked in no matter what the circumstances will be.
  • Man oh man. Luka Doncic showed us what he is truly made of after a dominant playoff run in the Western Conference, helping Dallas take down three higher seeds while facing home-court disadvantages in all those series. He was cold-blooded, stepping up in the clutch for the Mavericks while also dishing out the perfect dimes to his big men or Washington for the corner three-pointer. He was cashing his signature step back shots while also exposing the opposing big man’s weakness in defending the drop coverage. If Dallas wants to win the chip this year, Doncic must step on the gas pedal every game and play with the hunger that he had when they schooled the heavy favorite Minnesota Timberwolves to get to the finals.
  • Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Dante Exum must be ready in this series.
  • If Boston will come to a point that they want to put the Mavericks in a lot of foul trouble by staying in attack mode, Dallas will have to summon their bench mob to help maintain their flow. Those three I mentioned will likely be inserted with heavy minutes in a certain span of the series if Derrick Jones Jr., Washington, Josh Green, and Jaden Hardy will be pulled out due to foul trouble.

We’re done with Dallas. Let’s proceed to the Eastern Conference kings, the Boston Celtics.

  • Jrue Holiday and Derrick White will have to stand their ground.
  • Without a doubt, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White will be tasked to stop Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic in this series. Tagged as the best defensive backcourt in the ongoing NBA Playoffs, both players will have to buckle up and stay fired up if they want to stop Dallas’ two-headed monster. For me, Holiday will be spending a lot of time against Doncic and Kyrie, while White will be guarding Irving if the latter switches to the other. Both players already proved they can help Boston win games with their defense, and let us see if they can still keep up with the high-octane offense that the Mavericks can put up in spurts.
  • Don’t get baited with Dallas’ pick-and-roll actions.
  • What do I mean by this? If the Mavericks sets high screens to Luka and Kyrie, both players are adept at baiting their defenders with their next counter moves, resulting to easy lob dunks for both Gafford and Lively. They did this perfectly against Minnesota, where they abused Rudy Gobert in every action. Knowing Boston, they like to switch a lot, and they are one of the top teams that opts to switch instead of fighting the screen. However, those reactions will always result into consequences. If Boston decides to dive with the ball handler to neutralize Doncic and Irving’s scoring ability, they will have to give up some lobs and some open corner threes. How can the Celtics cover up the gaps to cancel the consequences?

Well, a quick help defense rotation can be a band aid, or a stagnant defender just beside the restricted area who can disrupt the lob pass. Pick your poison, head coach Joe Mazzulla.

  • Kristaps Porzingis’ health.
  • Kristaps Porzingis had a pretty banged-up post-season for the Celtics and is nearly inactive for two months since injuring his calf in the first round against the Miami Heat. The stretch power forward had to exit Game 4 of the series with just 13 minutes of playing time and didn’t suit up for Boston in the semifinals against Cleveland and the Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. Of course, Boston will be needing Porzingis in full battle mode as his ability to stretch the floor with his efficient three-point shot can force Dallas’ frontcourt to stay out of the shaded lane. If Porzingis is healthy in this series and he will be able to deliver consistent numbers, Boston will have a huge boost going into the seven-game affair.
  • Al Horford.
  • There’s plenty of things as to why Al Horford can be a huge factor in this series. It’s a double-edged sword in my opinion. The veteran big man can hurt the Celtics, and he can also pump up his squad. How can Horford hurt their chances? If Doncic and Irving will put him in several drop coverages, expect the center to have diminished minutes in the series. In their past games against the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers where Trae Young and Tyrese Maxey feasted on Horford in the drop, Boston had a hard time figuring out their next sets. As a result, Mazzulla played Porzingis more on the five position or a quick switch among the Boston defenders happened. Moving on to the positive side of Horford, the proven winner is already one of the most elite three-point shooters in the playoffs and has stepped up big time in the absence of Porzingis. His post presence is always a threat to the opposing teams, while his high court IQ can sometimes help win games for Boston in the crucial stretches of the final frame. Just like what I said during my previous point, it’s pick your poison.
  • Boston’s second unit must step up in this series.
  • No offense to Boston, but I think they will have to boost their bench’s confidence in this matchup against the Mavericks. Sam Hauser, their three-point specialist, was letting it fly at will during the regular season but as the playoffs went on, his shooting percentage from downtown also took a huge hit. In a game where everything is laid on the floor, Hauser must knock down the open threes that his teammates will feed him. For Payton Pritchard, I think it’s more of a defensive stand point rather than his given gift in scoring the rock. With Doncic and Irving’s game sense for matchup advantages, I can see that Dallas will capitalize on every opportunity when Pritchard will be inserted by the Celtics. But again, with the switching ability that Boston likes to run, expect them to put Pritchard away from Doncic and Irving in their isolation plays.
  • Jayson Tatum must prove that he is the man.
  • Despite the accolades in his young NBA career and his tremendous numbers against the Mavericks in the regular season, the “Tatum Hate” is still out loud in social media whereas he is still criticized with his lack of clutch gene. Most bashers say that it is Jaylen Brown that closes things out for the Celtics in their neck-and-neck affairs in the playoffs, but Tatum’s valuable contribution must not be discredited. This is for you, Mr. Tatum. If you want to shut the doubters, give us something spectacular in this year’s NBA Finals.

I hope I made my points clear. This ends my in-depth analysis.

So who’d you got? Boston or Dallas?

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