Boston Celtics

Five intriguing storylines for Celtics-Mavs NBA Finals

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We're just days away from what's sure to be an electrifying NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics are looking to win their first NBA title since 2008. The Mavs hope to earn their second championship in franchise history. Their first came in 2011 against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

If Boston brings home Banner 18, the franchise will pull ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the most championships in NBA history. If the Celtics fall short, it will mark the sixth time in eight years they've reached as far as the Eastern Conference Finals and failed to finish the job.

Here are five other intriguing storylines for the 2024 NBA Finals, which tip off Thursday night at TD Garden.

Kyrie Irving vs. Boston

This Celtics team falling short of Banner 18 would be devastating against any opponent. But against Kyrie Irving? Arguably Boston's greatest sports villain? Now that would sting.

Irving infamously left the Celtics in 2019 after telling fans during an event at TD Garden that he planned on re-signing. And although he played at an All-Star level during his two seasons with Boston, he repeatedly miffed C's fans with controversial remarks that put his leadership ability in question.

Take a look back at Kyrie Irving's journey with the Celtics in his own words.

Since his departure, Irving has been greeted with boos any time he touches the ball against the former team at the Garden. Boston's disdain for Irving reached another level after Game 4 of the 2021 Celtics-Nets first-round playoff series when he stomped on the Celtics' logo at midcourt. Moments later, a fan threw a water bottle at Irving's head as the then-Nets star exited the court.

We hope incidents like that will be avoided this time around, but the loud boos and crude language are inevitable. Irving remains public enemy No. 1, and his being in Boston's way of hanging Banner 18 is the obvious top storyline for this series.

Kristaps Porzingis vs. Dallas

Mavericks fans have their own villain for this series: C's big man Kristaps Porzingis.

Dallas traded for Porzingis at the 2019 deadline while he was recovering from ACL surgery. While the 7-foot-3 Latvian mostly played well during his two-plus seasons with the Mavs, he continued to be plagued by injuries. He played in only 57 games in 2019-20 and just 43 of Dallas' 72 games during the 2020-21 campaign. He tore his meniscus during the 2020 playoffs and struggled in the first round of the 2021 playoffs vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.

Chris Forsberg and Phil Perry join Trenni on Arbella Early Edition to discuss what the realistic expectations for Kristaps Porzingis' return to play should be for the NBA Finals.

Porzingis, whom Dallas traded to Washington in 2022, later admitted there was some tension between him and Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic that hurt the team's chemistry. So given how it all went down during Porzingis' tenure, ex-Mavs forward Chandler Parsons expects him to get a not-so-nice welcome back to American Airlines Center.

"It will be way more violent towards Kyrie Irving in Boston, but don't get it twisted, they do not like [Kristaps] Porzingis in Dallas," Parsons said on FanDuel's Run It Back. "Luka [Doncic] did not like playing with him, there is an actual beef there where it's going to be every time he touches the ball, he's getting booed. ...

"It didn't work out and Dallas, for whatever reason, those fans, they're (prideful). If you're hurt, if you're not playing, if you're not doing what you were doing in the years before you got to the Mavs... When you go back and play that team you want to prove something, you want to show what they're missing, the game has more juice to it. Now we're talking about the NBA Finals."

If you enjoy the villain storylines, this Finals series is for you.

First-ever Boston vs. Dallas championship matchup

Not only is it the first time the C's and Mavs have met in the Finals, but this is the first Boston vs. Dallas championship showdown in any major sport.

The Bruins and Stars haven't faced off in the Stanley Cup Final, the New England Patriots haven't seen the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and the Red Sox have never even had a playoff series against the Texas Rangers (who reside in Arlington, Texas... but close enough).

Al Horford's final shot at a title?

This could be Al Horford's last chance to win the NBA championship. The Celtics big man, who turned 38 on Monday, could call it a career after this season. Even if he plays out his C's contract, which expires next year, it's far from a guarantee he'll get another opportunity to play on this stage.

"I think there's been an awareness just toward who he is as a person, how he carries himself, and how important he is to the organization and the league really since I've been here," Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla told 98.5 The Sports Hub's Zolak & Bertrand of Horford. "And the respect that he has from me, from his teammates, from the organization just by who he is and how he plays the game.

"And I think naturally, understanding the situation that we're in, the situation he's in, yeah there's an awareness to it. That's kind of what brings a team closer together around this time is you gotta be able to think about the guy next to you. You gotta stick together and you have to understand that you need the guy next to you in order to win."

Can the Celtics find added motivation in Al Horford's quest to win his first title? Joe Mazzulla joins Zolak and Bertrand to discuss it.

Horford will have a chance to become just the fourth player to win his first NBA championship in his 17th season or later, joining current Dallas head coach Jason Kidd, Juwan Howard, and Kevin Willis.

Battle of superstar duos

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown vs. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. It doesn't get much better than that.

This series very well could come down to which All-Star duo shines brighter. Doncic and Irving present by far Boston's biggest challenge of the postseason, and you can bet the Jays will be ultra-focused on getting over the hump and bringing the elusive Banner 18 to Boston.

Tatum and Brown have averaged a combined 25.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in the 2024 playoffs. Doncic and Irving have averaged 25.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game.

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