How do Mavs and Celtics stack up? Inside the numbers of the 2024 NBA Finals



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And then there were two.

In one corner, out of the Eastern Conference: the Boston Celtics. No team won more games than Boston, who went 64-18 in the regular season. That’s quite a feat considering no team won 60 games in the 2022-23 season. To get to the NBA Finals, the Celtics beat the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in five games, the No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in five games, and swept the No. 6 seed Indiana Pacers. Boston did not need to face the No. 2 New York Knicks or the No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks, two teams that fell to the Pacers.

In the other corner, out of the Western Conference: the Dallas Mavericks. While the Celtics aren’t going to face a single top-three seed this postseason, Dallas has arrived at the NBA Finals by beating the fourth-seeded LA Clippers in six games, the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, and the No. 3 seed Minnesota Timberwolves in five games. Dallas did not need to face the second-seeded Denver Nuggets, the defending champions who lost a Game 7 to the Timberwolves despite holding a 20-point third-quarter lead in the semifinals.

The Celtics will be looking to break a tie with the Minneapolis Los Angeles Lakers, the two franchises with 17 NBA championships. Sure, starting in 1959, Boston won eight consecutive titles (eight-peated? Octo-peated?) and nine of the 10 NBA titles in the 1960s and has won only one title since 1986, but all of their championships have come during the shot-clock era. Standing in their way are the Mavericks, a team looking to win their second championship and making their first NBA Finals appearance that does not involve the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade; Dallas lost the 2006 finals (Wade was MVP) but won in 2011 (Dirk Nowitzki was MVP).

There are a lot of numbers to get to over the next week, so here’s a first look at them:


1

When it comes to rankings, the Boston Celtics topped the list in several notable categories this season. As part of the best offense in the NBA, the Celtics had the lowest turnover percentage in the league, an advantage they should be able to maintain against a Mavericks defense that ranked 17th in opponent turnover percentage. A player to watch here: shooting guard Derrick White, who led Boston with 5.2 assists per game and averaged only 1.5 turnovers per game.

The only defense better than the Celtics this season was the Timberwolves. But no team kept opponents off the free-throw line as well as Boston did. That might not be an issue against the Mavericks overall, as they ranked 13th in free-throw-attempt rate this season. Boston also led the league for the season in rim protection, though the Mavericks were the best-rim-protection defense after the All-Star break. That has carried over into the postseason.

33.9

Luka Dončić led the NBA in scoring this season with 33.9 points per game, and he’s the first scoring leader to play in that season’s NBA Finals since Stephen Curry in 2016. Curry’s Golden State Warriors won a league-record 73 games and had a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, but the Cleveland Cavaliers fought back to win a Game 7 on the road to capture the championship.

Dončić is attempting to be the first scoring champion to win a title in the same season since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal did it with the Lakers in 2000. Overall, scoring champions are 11-8 in the NBA Finals, with Hall of Famer Michael Jordan accounting for six of the 11 wins.

The other players to win a scoring title in the same season they won the league championship: Joe Fulks with the 1947 Warriors, George Mikan with the 1949 and 1950 Lakers, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) with the 1971 Bucks.

1.056

The Mavericks averaged 1.056 points per possession on all isolation plays which was second-best in the league behind only the LA Clippers, per Synergy. The Celtics ranked third with 1.036 points per possession.

This series features four of the 33 players who had at least 200 isolation possessions (including passes) this season: Dončić, Mavericks shooting guard Kyrie Irving and Boston Celtics All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This will be an exceptionally isolation-heavy series between two teams that ranked in the bottom-10 in passes per game in the regular season.

16.5

Expect an abundance of 3s in this series. Boston led the league in makes (16.5) this season while Dallas was third behind Golden State in makes (14.6). The Celtics were also first in 3-point attempts (42.5) while Dallas was second (39.5).

What will vary is the teams’ approach to hoisting those 3s. Per Second Spectrum, Boston made the most catch-and-shoot 3s per game this season at 11.4, while Dallas only ranked 20th (9.0). But Dallas has the leader in pull-up 3s in Dončić, who made 221 of Dallas’ league-leading 414 pull-up 3s. Boston ranked second behind Dallas in pull-up 3s, with Tatum making 145 pull-up 3s to rank fourth in the league behind Dončić, Curry, and Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Damian Lillard.

Dallas has decreased its 3-point attempts during the course of the season as 44.9 percent of the Mavericks’ field goal attempts before the All-Star break were 3s, ranking second behind only Boston. After the All-Star break and with a roster fortified with upgraded bigs in starters P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford, the Mavericks’ 3-point attempts dipped to 42.4 percent, ranking sixth in the NBA. In the postseason, 40.9 percent of Dallas field goal attempts have been 3s, which would have ranked ninth in the regular season. The Mavericks are still relatively jump-shot heavy, but not as extreme as a Celtics team that has 3-point shooters among their top eight players when fully healthy.

10

Are the Celtics fully healthy? Boston center Kristaps Porziņģis missed the last 10 games of the Celtics’ run through the Eastern Conference due to a right soleus (calf) strain. While the Celtics were able to win nine of those 10 games, the former Maverick will be critical for Boston to have an interior presence on both ends of the floor. Porziņģis is an elite rim protector, can space the floor, and has a post game that Dallas fans probably won’t recognize.

During the regular season, Boston averaged 120.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed only 109.4 in the 623 minutes that Porziņģis shared the floor with Tatum, Brown, White, and Jrue Holiday. With that same lineup except for Al Horford instead of Porziņģis, Boston only outscored foes 118.5 to 115.8 per 100 possessions in 311 regular season minutes.

While Porziņģis is preparing to face his former team, Irving will be looking to do the same as a former Celtic. This is the first time Irving is back in the finals after requesting a trade from Cleveland in 2017 that landed him in Boston for two seasons. Irving, the top pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, already has a championship with the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. A Mavericks championship would allow Irving to join Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Mychal Thompson, Magic Johnson, Mark Aguirre, James Worthy, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, O’Neal, Tim Duncan and LeBron James as top-overall picks with multiple NBA championships.

4-0

That’s Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla’s record against Dallas head coach Jason Kidd. Prior to Mazzulla’s promotion to head coach right before 2022 training camp, the Mavericks had beaten the Celtics four straight times. Not only has Mazzulla never lost to the Mavericks, but also all of Mazzulla’s wins over Dallas have come by at least nine points.

Also, Mavs fans shouldn’t overreact to Game 1. Dallas head coach Jason Kidd has lost the series opener five times. The only time he did not go on to win the series opener was in the 2022 Western Conference finals against the eventual champion Warriors. Both Mazzulla and Kidd have won five of their six series as head coach of their respective current teams.

5

Dallas was the fifth seed in the Western Conference, but they are now the sixth team in NBA history to make it to the finals as a team seeded fifth or lower. All of the previous five teams to make the finals after being seeded no higher than fifth had to do what Dallas is faced with: going up against the top seed from the opposite conference:


Required reading

Cato: Mavericks’ Luka Dončić stands on precipice of greatness
Hollinger: In NBA Finals, Celtics and Mavs face different challenges from what they just conquered
King: How Jaylen Brown used Luka Dončić to improve
Weiss: Why Jaylen Brown was surprised to win series MVP

(Photo of Luka Dončić and Jayson Tatum: Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images)





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