NBA Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs Dallas Mavericks – why Kyrie holds the key to who wins championship


Luka Doncic will dominate, Jayson Tatum will be efficient, Dallas will have hot and cold moments and Boston will employ the superior team game but the winner of the NBA Finals will be decided by how Kyrie Irving performs.

The NBA’s most enigmatic star, Irving divides opinions with his off-court views and wild fluctuations between being a player that teammates love to have on their side and someone who can leave a franchise in smouldering ruins. 

His mid-season trade to Dallas last year, which he engineered after burning his Brooklyn bridges in typical caustic fashion, was an all or nothing play by desperate Mavericks execs who were worried about losing their franchise cornerstone in Doncic.

The trade market for Irving at the time was alarmingly low for a player whose on-court mastery would be in the top percentile in an extremely talented league. 

Boston Celtics
Dallas Mavericks
NBA : Head To Head
Fri, 7 Jun 2024, 10:35

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Irving was the rising star who, at 23, stepped up alongside LeBron James in 2016 to lead the Cavaliers to their historic championship when they became the first finals team to win after being 3-1 down to the Warriors, sealed by his iconic three-pointer in the tense ending to game seven when some of the biggest names on the planet went ice cold.

But after several seasons of oscillating output at Cleveland, Boston and the Nets, his controversial refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 which cost him millions of dollars and a large chunk of one season, Irving’s value when he demanded to go straight outta Brooklyn was minimal. 

The Nets managed to get a 2029 first-round pick, a couple of seconds and two role players in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. 

At a time when blockbuster trade packages for less-talented players like Rudy Gobert, Jrue Holiday and Donovan Mitchell had become commonplace, Brooklyn made the best of a bad situation but were still short-changed in this transaction compared to Irving’s true value when he is consistently on the court and firing on all cylinders.

And after a rocky start to his tenure at Dallas at the end of last season, that is exactly what Irving is doing now.

Kyrie Irving during his time in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

All season he has refrained from making outlandish public statements, hasn’t dropped any major social media bombs to derail the Mavericks’ momentum and most importantly, he has been the ideal deputy to Doncic. 

He was just a fraction off completing a 50-40-90 season with shooting splits of 49.7% from the field, 41.1% on threes and 90.5 at the free throw line.

In his first 20 games at the Mavs in the 2022-23 season, he and Doncic did not know who should take the lead, which led to comical late-game situations when they were both deferring to each other to the detriment of the team.

It led to the team flaming out in the stretch run to eventually tank out of the play-in equation to retain their top-10 protected draft pick, which they converted into the lob-threat centre they desperately needed in rookie Dereck Lively. 

Irving has averaged a relatively modest 22.8 points in the post-season in the series wins over the Clippers, Thunder and Timberwolves and Doncic is “down” to his worst ever playoff output of 28.8.

Both stars have taken a step back so the team can make a giant leap forward.

The way that Dallas dismantled Minnesota – who had eliminated the champs in Denver – with a gentleman’s sweep in the Western Conference finals shows that they have serious momentum heading into the decider against Boston. 

Josh Green. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

But they are still the underdogs. 

Boston have been the best team from the start of the season with the Nuggets never quite hitting top gear in their trophy defence. It looked like they were saving themselves for the playoffs but even Nikola Jokic’s magic couldn’t bring them back to the heights of their title-winning run.

The Celtics, after retooling their roster in the off-season, found their groove early and have motored along at the top of the standings ever since before sleepwalking through a soft Eastern Conference slate of a depleted Miami, dysfunctional Cleveland and over-achieving Indiana in the finals. 

They will have Kristaps Porzingis back from injury when the championship series tips off on Friday and with Jaylen Brown upping his offensive game in the Pacers sweep, he and Tatum are primed to finally take the Celtics to their 18th title after five near-misses.

 And they know as well as anyone the Irving double-edged sword from his time at the franchise, when he said he wanted to be a Celtic for life before coming back to Boston with Brooklyn and stomping all over their logo at halfcourt. 

Doncic will deliver triple-doubles on an almost automatic rotation in the finals but if Irving shrugs off the inevitable booing that comes his way to duplicate his performances against the Wolves, then Dallas are a chance to add one more scalp to their giant-killing run in only the sixth time a team has made the finals from a fifth seed or lower.

And although he’s a Team USA representative, Irving will not be the only Australian-born player in the finals with Dante Exum and Josh Green also lining up for the Mavs.

Exum’s game time has been reduced in the playoffs after his impressive comeback season in the NBA and with his length, he could get an uptick in minutes with a mission to restrict Brown on the wing.

Green has been getting more of a run in coach Jason Kidd’s rotation and although he is a touch under-sized against Tatum, he will likely get put on him throughout the finals as Dallas try to lock down the perimeter.

Boston have been the NBA’s best three-point shooting team this season and as great as Doncic and Irving can be at the offensive end, they can’t afford to give the Celtics any space from distance.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

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