Bold Player and Series Predictions for Mavericks vs. Celtics 2024 NBA Finals

Bold Player and Series Predictions for Mavericks vs. Celtics 2024 NBA Finals

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    Luka Dončić and Jayson Tatum

    Luka Dončić and Jayson TatumBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    After the Dallas Mavericks blew out the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday, their date with the Boston Celtics is set for the 2024 NBA Finals.

    Now, it’s time to start looking ahead with some bold predictions for the series.

    Will Luka Dončić or Jayson Tatum emerge as the Finals’ best player? Who’ll be the biggest X-factor? Who’ll ultimately win? And now long will it go?

    Those questions and more are answered below.

Luka Dončić Will Lead the Finals in Scoring

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    Luka Dončić

    Luka DončićMatthew Stockman/Getty Images

    In 2006, Dwyane Wade averaged 34.7 points in the Finals. Six years later, Kevin Durant put up 30.6 points in the 2012 Finals. No one else in the NBA’s three-point era averaged 30-plus in a Finals before turning 26.

    Well, even with the Boston Celtics boasting this season’s third-best defense, you can count on one more player joining that club.

    Luka just turned 25 in February, and he averaged 32.4 against Jaden McDaniels, Rudy Gobert and the league’s best regular-season defense.

    Even with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ aggressive and overly physical defense, Luka was able to control possessions in his typically dominant fashion, getting defenders on his back, rising up for jumpers all over the floor, spraying out to shooters when he’s bottled up and producing legendary moments as both a scorer and passer.

    In Game 2, he got Gobert backpedaling before drilling a stepback, game-winning three with three seconds left. In Game 3, he put the nail in the coffin with a drive and lefty lob to Daniel Gafford that about brought down the American Airlines Center. In Game 5, he immediately set the tone for what would prove to be the series-clincher by scoring 20 of his 36 in the first quarter.

    Luka will continue to dominate against Boston, despite the depth and variety of defenders it can throw his way. The Celtics have tenacious guards in Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, and versatile wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

    But at this point, it’s fair to say there really isn’t an answer for playoff Luka.

    Thursday’s Game 5 win over Minnesota was Dončić’s 45th career playoff game. He has 1,400 points, 425 rebounds and 370 assists in those games. No one else matched or exceeded all three totals in their first 43 playoff games. And you have to drop the qualifiers all the way to 1,100, 300 and 300 just to add LeBron James and Oscar Robertson.

Jayson Tatum Will Find His Outside Shot

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    Obi Toppin and Jayson Tatum

    Obi Toppin and Jayson TatumRon Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

    Jayson Tatum has received criticism throughout this postseason, but he’s 12-2 and averaging team highs in points (26.0), rebounds (10.4), and assists (5.9) per game.

    It says something about the standards he’s set for himself that that’s drawn criticism, but his three-point percentage has to be at least mildly concerning.

    He’s taking 7.1 triples per game, but he’s only connected on 29.0 percent of those shots.

    If he keeps shooting from the outside at that rate, Boston is going to have a hard time keeping pace with the red-hot Mavericks.

    But Tatum had hit 35.9 percent of his postseason three-point attempts prior to 2024, and it feels like the dam has to break at some point.

    Dallas has multiple defenders who can at least bother Tatum outside in P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr., but the Celtics’ offense generates tons of good looks.

    They were first in open three-point attempts and eighth in wide-open three-point attempts this regular season, and Tatum will knock them down at a rate closer to his career norms in the Finals.

Dereck Lively II Will Average a Double-double

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    Rudy Gobert and Dereck Lively II

    Rudy Gobert and Dereck Lively IIJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Perhaps the biggest reason for the Mavericks’ midseason surge, which has them in the Finals, is the full 48 minutes of high-end rim-running and rim protection they get from rookie Dereck Lively II and deadline-day acquisition Daniel Gafford.

    With two above-the-rim lob threats for Luka to target, Dallas’ pick-and-roll game is almost unstoppable. Follow the playmaker and his diving big to the paint, and the shooters flanking the action will be open. Stay home on the outside, and Lively and Gafford will destroy the rim.

    And over the course of the Finals, the younger threat is going to slowly take over some of Gafford’s playing time.

    Right now, the minutes are split pretty evenly, but Lively is a bit more active on the offensive boards, and he’s had a massively positive impact on Dallas’ point differential this postseason.

    On the game’s biggest and brightest stage, when the margins are usually thin, slight edges, like the one Lively has as an offensive rebounder, can make a big difference.

    Right now, he’s averaging 8.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in 21.5 minutes. Those marks will creep over double-figures in the Finals, which is pretty remarkable for a rookie. Only nine players in NBA history pulled off that feat in their first year, and the most recent was Magic Johnson in 1980.

    In hindsight, the Mavericks’ decision to blatantly and explicitly tank to hang onto their 2023 first-round pick was a good one.

The Celtics Will Push It to Game 7…

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    Payton Pritchard and Jaylen Brown

    Payton Pritchard and Jaylen BrownDavid L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Celtics had a spectacular regular season.

    Beyond going 64-18, Boston’s 10.8 SRS (which combines point differential and strength of schedule) ranks fifth in NBA history.

    The teams ahead of them on that list—the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and 2016-17 Golden State Warriors—are all legendary.

    And that doesn’t even begin to put their regular season in proper context.

    Sean Grande @SeanGrandePBP

    Here you go….

    This is a juggernaut. Make no mistake about it. And even with Dallas on fire, Kristaps Porziņģis either out or potentially compromised for the Finals and Boston seemingly prone to letdowns (they dropped games to the injured and inferior Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, and almost did the same against the Indiana Pacers in Game 3), the Celtics will still get to at least three wins in this series.

    Jaylen Brown is scoring with both volume (25.0 points per game) and efficiency (a 59.6 effective field-goal percentage). Derrick White is averaging 17.8 points and 3.4 threes, while shooting 40.7 percent from deep. And Boston is getting timely contributions from all over the rest of the rotation.

    The Mavs’ defense has been crucial in getting them to where they are, but they’re not shutting this three-point-heavy attack down altogether.

…but the Mavericks Will Claim the NBA Title on the Road

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    Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving

    Luka Dončić and Kyrie IrvingJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    You can look at the difference in the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs a couple different ways.

    On one hand, the depth of the West and the competitiveness of almost every series could have the Mavs feeling pretty exhausted and beaten up by the time the Finals start.

    Boston’s been able to cruise past the Heat without Jimmy Butler, the Cavaliers without Jarrett Allen and, for a few games, Donovan Mitchell and the Pacers, who were missing Tyrese Haliburton in Game 3.

    The Celtics should be fresh.

    will jones ⚒️ @Will_d_jones

    The Celtics showing up to the finals vs whoever comes out of the West

    On the other hand, Dallas is battle-tested and -hardened. Wrapping up the Wolves series in five games earned them a little extra rest, too. And right now, the Mavericks seem to have a solve for everything the league’s best and most physical defense is throwing at them.

    As TNT’s Reggie Miller noted during Game 3 when he compared them to Mariano Rivera and Dennis Eckersley, Dallas has the two best closers left standing in Dončić and Kyrie Irving. Those two are surrounded with size (thanks in large part to the acquisitions of Gafford and Washington), defensive versatility and talent that knows it’s there to lift the stars.

    When these games get tight (and they will) Luka and Kyrie will make just enough more plays than Tatum, Brown and White to win this series in seven.

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