Boston Celtics

The five biggest keys to Celtics beating Mavs in NBA Finals

Boston will bring home Banner 18 if it succeeds in these key areas.

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It all comes down to this.

The 2024 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are set to begin Thursday night at TD Garden. Boston hopes to top off its historic 64-18 regular season with the 18th championship in franchise history -- the most of any NBA team.

Accomplishing that feat against Dallas won't be an easy task. Led by superstar Luka Doncic and ex-Celtic Kyrie Irving, the Mavs are by far the toughest team the C's have faced in this postseason. There will be plenty of pressure on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to prove themselves as the better star duo in the series.

Of course, Boston will need more than just big games from the Jays to take home the NBA title. Here are the five biggest keys to the Celtics defeating the Mavericks and bringing Banner 18 to TD Garden.

Road success

The Celtics are a perfect 6-0 on the road in this postseason after posting a 27-14 record away from TD Garden during the regular season. Their road success sets them up well against the Mavs, who haven't benefited from homecourt at all during the 2023-24 campaign. Dallas went 25-16 both at home and on the road during the regular season and is a less-than-stellar 5-3 at American Airlines Center in these playoffs.

Continuing to take care of business on the road will be crucial for the C's, whose two playoff losses have come at the Garden.

Dominance from deep

The Celtics will lean heavily on their 3-point shooting prowess to outscore arguably the best offensive duo in the league in Doncic and Irving. When the 3s aren't falling, it could get ugly.

As we saw in Boston's Game 2 loss to Cleveland, the missed 3s also hurt on the defensive end. The Celtics' transition defense was non-existent against Donovan Mitchell, so you can imagine how the game will play out if they have a similar effort against the Mavs' superstar tandem.

This could be a quick series if the C's are hot from 3. Boston has a 66-7 record this season, including the playoffs, when making the same number or more 3s than its opponents. It is 11-13 when opponents make more 3s.

Clutch-time performance

To this point in the 2024 playoffs, the Celtics have quieted the critics of their clutch-time performance. They're 4-0 in games within five points in the last five minutes and lead all teams with a 49.3 net rating in that scenario.

That only four of their 14 postseason games have included clutch time speaks to how dominant Boston has been during its run. But barring any injuries, Dallas won't be a cakewalk like the undermanned Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Indiana Pacers. Boston should be prepared for some close, grind-it-out games that are decided in the final minutes.

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In past years, we've been wary about the Celtics' ability to perform in clutch circumstances. However, nothing we've seen this season suggests they can't thrive in such moments this time around. They were 21-12 in clutch games during the regular season with a 15.4 net rating that ranked fourth in the NBA.

The Mavericks haven't wavered in crunch time either, going 23-9 with a 20.3 net rating during the regular season, followed by a 6-3 record and 1.6 net rating in the playoffs.

Crashing the boards

There's a good chance the team that wins the rebounding battle wins it all. That could be a difficult task for the Celtics against the Mavericks' tough frontcourt duo of Daniel Gafford and rookie Dereck Lively II.

C's great Cedric Maxwell discussed the importance of rebounding in this series -- particularly on the offensive glass -- during a recent episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast:

"I can give you one key: rebounding the basketball," Maxwell told Chris Forsberg. "Not giving up second-chance opportunities. Because Gafford and Lively are around the rim all the time. You don't want to give a team that has these shooters extra opportunities. ...

"To me, it's going to be not giving up offensive rebounds. Because we've seen Lively, we've seen Gafford, those guys feast on the inside."

That means Boston will lean heavily on its frontcourt trio of Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, and Luke Kornet to fight for boards. We could also see more of Oshae Brissett, who brought the energy and helped in the rebounding department during a standout performance against Indiana.

The Celtics have a 10-0 record in the playoffs when they outrebound their opponent. They're 2-2 when they lose the battle on the boards.

The Kristaps Porzingis factor

Porzingis is good to go for Game 1 on Thursday. The question is, just how effective will he be?

The Celtics will need to know the answer relatively quickly. If it's obvious early on that Porzingis still isn't 100 percent, it would be wise to limit his minutes. Now is not the time to leave him on the floor to work through his struggles if he's noticeably rusty. That could throw Boston's offensive rhythm out of whack right out of the gate.

That said, a healthy Porzingis is a game-changer. The 7-foot-3 Latvian gives Boston an answer for Gafford and Lively at the rim as well as an additional sharpshooter for Dallas to worry about. Having him in the starting lineup also allows the 38-year-old Al Horford to have fresh legs off the bench, making him even more impactful on both ends.

It isn't farfetched to say Porzingis' performance to start Game 1 could set the tone for the rest of the series.

Kristaps gives a final injury update the day before the start of the NBA Finals and confirms that he will be playing in Game 1.
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