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Job’s not done: scattered thoughts with Celtics up 2-0 in the NBA Finals



The Boston Celtics are up two games to nothing in the NBA Finals. They won both at TD Garden pretty handily and arguably haven’t even played their best basketball yet.

The theme I keep hearing or reading is that the series is over and there’s nothing that the Mavericks can do to save their season. Of course as the series shifts back to Dallas, most Celtics fans are echoing Jaylen Brown by saying “this isn’t our first rodeo.”

We know that a series isn’t over even with a 2-0 lead. We know that adjustments are going to be made and home cooking has an impact. We know that “you can’t fake desperation” and the Celtics haven’t always come with their A game when up in a series (though they have a lot more this year than in the past).

The point is, the job’s not done yet. To me, there are several factors that could still swing the Maverick’s way (and several counter factors that could nullify those factors). Let’s go back and forth through those points like watching a basketball game go up and down the court.

Kyrie could hit more shots

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Mavs has been the relative invisibility of Kyrie Irving. I don’t know if it is the crowd getting to him, the defensive schemes, or being targeted on defense. This is the guy that hit a Finals winning shot. This is the guy that has thrived on hitting ridiculous shots over great defenders. And it isn’t like he’s never been targeted on defense before.

So I wouldn’t rule out a few big Kyrie games in this series.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Tatum should hit more shots

Meanwhile, the Celtics have thrived in the first two games despite Jayson Tatum’s shooting slump. My pet theory is that he’s being forced to think too much. He’s so good at reading the defense and making the next right play. He’s blowing past the perimeter defender, seeing the defense collapse, and kicking out to open shooters. Over and over and over. So when he finally gets a chance to shoot, he’s thinking about getting that shot instead of just shooting in rhythm.

I think a few different things could get him going. If the Mavs switch up their defense and try to stay at home on shooters more, that will give Tatum more chances to finish his layups over one defender instead of 2 or 3.

Or if they don’t switch things up, he can look for pockets in that defense. If they are going to keep two defenders in to bother his drives, that could open up a stop-and-pop midrange shot (that we know he can hit). I kind of want to see him drive into the paint and fake the pass out to a shooter to see if that opens up an easy look. I think an occasional hesitation move or pump fake off two feet (which Jaylen has used masterfully) would serve him well in there as well. Getting to the line and watching the ball go through the net is the oldest and truest of basketball sayings.

Jayson is doing so much to help this team win basketball games, on defense, on the boards, distributing the ball, using his gravity to impact spacing. He can be streaky with his shooting but he’s too good to be off for long.

2024 NBA Finals - Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics

Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas role players will probably play better at home

I don’t even need stats to know that the Dallas role players haven’t stepped up yet. I just know that I’m not annoyed at any of them so far. The Celtics are taking away their favored corner 3’s and daring them to shoot from above the break. Boston is single covering Luka (to a point) which limits the number of lob opportunities. Dereck Lively is probably the Mavs 3rd best player and he has more fouls (6) than he does points (4).

But you know how this goes. Role players play better at home. P.J. Washington or Derrick Jones Jr. could get hot from outside. Maybe Luka will figure out some ways to get some more lobs up to his bigs. Perhaps the home crowd will buoy their defense at critical moments.

The Celtics are undefeated on the road in this year’s playoffs, but to be fair (as everyone has reminded us for weeks), the opponents haven’t been all that dangerous either. The Mavs are in the Finals for a reason.

The Celtics will likely shoot better from 3

In the regular season, the Celtics had a 38.8% three point shooting percentage (2nd in the league). In the playoffs it has dipped to 36.2% but that’s still very good. They shot 38.1% in Game 1. In Game 2, they shot just 25.6% (and still won). That’s not very likely to happen again with this group.

This team shoots with high volume and high percentage from deep and usually the math just wins out.

Porzingis health?

A big question mark hangs over the health of Kristaps Porzingis. In both games, the Mavericks came out strong in the opening minutes. But when Porzingis checked into the game things shifted Boston’s way. He’s tied with Tatum for the 2nd highest +/- on the team with a +12.5 (behind only Jrue at +13). He’s a walking advantage for the Celtics, …when he’s able to do more than walk.

I tend to think that the Celtics can still finish off the Mavericks even without Porzingis, but it won’t be easy.

Luka figuring things out?

I don’t think you can say that Luka is “struggling” in this series when he’s averaging 31 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6 assists. But this hasn’t been a traditional Luka series where he gets to where he wants at will and makes everyone around him better with his gravity and passing. The Celtics are taking away his favorite passing options and making him work overtime on defense. Can they keep that up or will Luka find the gaps and seams in that scheme and get his teammates better looks in Game 3?

Bottom line: Boston is better

The equation is still the same. The Mavericks may have the best player in the series, but the Celtics have the better team. The matchups favor the Celtics, in part because Brad Stevens built a team that can win in many different ways. Joe Mazzulla deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team focused on the gameplan. The players deserve a ton of credit for playing unselfish, team first basketball. They’ve been the best team in the NBA all season long. None of that matters because this team will be remembered for how they finish this series.

This is their time. This is their opportunity. It isn’t going to be easy for all the reasons stated above. The Mavericks are a very good team and I could see them taking a game or two in the series. Then again, I could see the Celtics taking their best shot and winning the next two anyway.

Regardless, I don’t see the Mavs taking 4 of the next 5 games because fundamentally Boston is better. But they have to keep doing what they’ve been doing to get here. The job’s not done yet.

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