Boston Celtics

Can Porzingis stay hot? Five questions entering Celtics-Mavs Game 2

The Mavericks are aiming for their fourth Game 2 win of the playoffs.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Boston Celtics threw the first punch in the 2024 NBA Finals with a 107-89 win in Game 1 at TD Garden, and now it's up to the Dallas Mavericks to respond.

The Mavs have been in this situation before. They lost the first game in both the first round and conference semifinals. They bounced back with a Game 2 victory in each series.

Replicating that success a third time will be a difficult challenge for the Mavericks. The Celtics have won a franchise record eight straight playoff games and star center Kristaps Porzingis is back in the lineup after missing most of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

What should we watch for in Game 2 on Sunday night in Boston? Here are five key questions.

Will Mavs' role players step up?

The Mavericks can't win this series if their role players don't show up. Dallas players not named Luka Doncic or Kyrie Irving combined to score just 47 points on 17-of-39 shooting in Game 1, and those numbers are inflated a bit by Jaden Hardy scoring 11 points in garbage time during the fourth quarter.

P.J. Washington was the only other Mavs starter besides Irving and Doncic to score in double figures.

Derrick Jones Jr. chipped in five points. Josh Green, Dereck Lively II and Maxi Kleber scored only two points each. Foul trouble limited Lively to just 18 minutes of action.

It's fair to wonder after Game 1 if the Mavs have the firepower to keep up with the Celtics. The C's are averaging 111.1 points per game in the playoffs. They had six players score 10-plus points Thursday, and Sam Hauser was close with eight.

Even if Doncic and Irving score 30 points apiece, the Mavericks still need several other players to contribute at a high level offensively. Role players typically perform better at home, but the Mavs need to win at least one game in Boston to become NBA champions.

Washington is the key. The Mavs lost Game 1 in both the first and second rounds of the playoffs, but they won Game 2 in each of those series because Washington scored 18 points against the Clippers and 29 points against the Thunder. Can he deliver another excellent Game 2 performance on the road Sunday? Dallas badly needs it.

Will Kyrie Irving be more efficient offensively?

Doncic scored 30 points on 12-of-26 shooting with 10 rebounds but just one assist in Game 1. It was a good-but-not-great performance. Irving, on the other hand, played poorly. In fact, it was one of his worst outings of the playoffs.

Irving scored just 12 points on 6-of-19 shooting. He missed all five of his 3-point attempts and committed three turnovers. He finished with only two assists.

The Celtics did a nice job defending Irving, including at the rim.

"I think that (the Celtics) really rely on their great defensive ball pressure and one-on-one defenders," Irving told reporters in his postgame press conference. "They funnel us into certain areas. Even as I say that, they are relying on the one-on-one, every time I got an iso, there's almost two, three people waiting for me to get in there. I have to catch the ball on a live dribble and just be aware of my opportunities.

"It's uncharacteristic for us to have only nine assists. The ball has got to move a little bit more. And again, that starts with me just being able to push the pace, get us some easy opportunities, and just adjust to what they are throwing at us."

The Mavericks are 3-3 in the playoffs when Irving scores 16 or fewer points. They are 9-3 when he scores more than 16 points. Doncic cannot beat the Celtics by himself. If Irving doesn't help out offensively in a significant way, this series will be over soon.

Can Kristaps Porzingis replicate Game 1 performance?

Porzingis played one of the best first quarters by a Celtic in NBA Finals history in Game 1. He came off the bench and scored 11 points and blocked three shots in the opening frame. The Celtics had a one-point lead when he checked into the game and it grew to 17 by the end of the quarter.

Porzingis shot 2-of-4 from 3-point range and also took advantage of matchups against smaller players by shooting right over them with his 7-foot-2 frame.

Porzingis finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He also played great defensively by blocking three shots and altering several others.

This sequence during the first quarter illustrated the two-way impact Porzingis made in the series opener.

It'll be interesting to see what kinds of Game 2 adjustments the Mavericks make in regards to Porzingis. He's a very different kind of center than what they faced in the Western Conference Finals when Rudy Gobert was on the floor. Porzingis can score from anywhere on the court and is a brick wall defensively in the paint.

"KP was great, he knocked down shots. He changed shots. He blocked shots," Mavs head coach Jason Kidd told reporters postgame. "He gave them a spark when he came off the bench. We've just got to make it a little bit tougher on the offensive end. We've got to make him do something different. He got great looks and knocked them down."

If Porzingis plays anywhere near the level he did in Game 1 for the rest of the series, the Mavs are in deep trouble.

Will Jayson Tatum be more assertive in looking to score?

You know the Celtics are a special team when their best player doesn't have to score 25-plus points to make a huge impact on the game.

Tatum is the team's best rebounder. Frankly, he's one of the best rebounding wings in all of basketball. He pulled down 11 boards in Game 1 and leads the Celtics with 10.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Tatum also makes a huge difference as a playmaker. He draws so much attention on drives to the basket, but instead of forcing tough shots, he's consistently finding the open man. He dished out five assists Thursday, and that number could have been a lot higher but his teammates shot just 5-of-19 on his feeds.

But even if the Celtics don't require a high-scoring game from Tatum to pile up victories, it would definitely help if he was a little more of a factor offensively. He scored just 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting in Game 1. He attempted only two free throws. The superstar forward played the whole first quarter but had only one shot attempt in the frame.

Tatum is capable of dominating offensively -- he averaged 30.3 points per game in the conference finals -- and there are plenty of favorable matchups for the Celtics to take advantage of when he has the ball in his hands. A more assertive Tatum on that end of the floor on Sunday night would be a nice boost for Boston.

Chris Forsberg and Chris Mannix react to Jayson Tatum's performance in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and break down why, despite 'maddening' turnovers and lack of scoring, his play helped Boston win.

Is Game 2 a must-win for Mavs?

Is this a silly question after one game? Maybe a little bit, but consider the following facts:

  • The Celtics lost back-to-back games just four times during the regular season, and their longest losing streak was two games.
  • The Celtics have not lost four times in five games all season.
  • The Celtics are 6-0 on the road in the 2024 playoffs and have won eight straight postseason road games dating back to last year.
  • The Celtics are 42-1 all-time in series during which they took a 2-0 lead. The only loss was to LeBron James and the Cavs in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Mavs have not faced an 0-2 series deficit in these playoffs. They have stolen homecourt advantage in the first two games in each of their first three series. So if they were to go down 0-2 against the best team in the league, one that often plays better on the road than at home, that would be a different kind of pressure Dallas hasn't dealt with in the 2024 playoffs.

It wouldn't be impossible for the Mavericks to win the series if they trailed 0-2, but history would not be on their side. Just three teams since 1977 -- 2021 Bucks, 2016 Cavaliers, 2006 Heat -- have fallen behind 0-2 in the NBA Finals and won the series.

Contact Us