Celtics command the Garden: Biggest takeaways of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Boston and Dallas

NBA Finals

It's June 7th, 2024 and the time is 5:00 AM.

On Thursday, the Boston Celtics officially started the 2024 NBA Finals by completely dominating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1.

The Celtics had an amazing start to the series with a remarkable 23-5 run in the last six minutes of the first quarter, leading to a comfortable lead. Boston's defense kept troubling Dallas during the entire half, and they managed to limit the Western Conference champion to only 42 points, which was their second-lowest first-half point total in the playoffs of 2024.

The Celtics had a big advantage of 21 points at halftime but things started to change in the third quarter when Luka Doncic and his teammates were able to reduce the difference to less than 10 points. However, Boston's great performance in preventing the Dallas' auxiliary players from scoring proved to be decisive. Doncic managed to score 30 points and grab 10 rebounds, but he only made one assist, which was his worst record in the playoffs.

Boston was headed by Jaylen Brown who scored 22 points in the game. However, the highlight of the match was the remarkable comeback of Kristaps Porzingis, who had been out of action due to a calf injury since the opening round. The 7-foot-3 center made a strong comeback with 20 points and three blocks during Game 1.

On Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, the Mavericks will aim to tie up the series in Game 2, which will be screened on ABC. In the meantime, let's examine what our NBA experts found noteworthy from Thursday night.

Which Game 1 Pattern Can Define Series?

Tim Bontemps shares his thoughts on how Boston's defensive strategy impacted their game against Dallas. He notes that while Kyrie Irving struggled with his shooting, going 6-for-19 and missing all 5 shots from beyond the arc, Luka Doncic managed to score 30 points and grab 10 rebounds. However, he only got one assist, which is a record low for him in the postseason and for this season. The rest of the Dallas team had a hard time contributing, as they only managed to get 9 assists throughout the game. Boston's defense was a key factor in their success, as they were able to use their versatile defense to guard Dallas' stars without needing to double-team them. This allowed them to keep Doncic from tearing them apart with his excellent performance in previous games where he faced double teams. By doing this, Boston was able to prevent Dallas' role players, including P.J. Washington, from getting involved in the game.

According to Marc Spears, the Celtics can still prevail against the Mavericks even if Tatum doesn't perform at his best. Despite only scoring 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting and committing six turnovers, Tatum's teammates were able to step up and contribute to the offensive output. With six players scoring double figures, the Boston squad has a diverse range of scoring options. However, the question remains: how will the series unfold when Tatum starts playing at his peak level?

Kevin Pelton noted that the Boston Celtics have an upper hand when it comes to 3-point attempts. Even though both the Celtics and the Mavericks rely on 3-pointers, the Celtics made more attempts (47%) than the Mavericks (44%) during the regular season. The Celtics' coach, Joe Mazzulla, strongly emphasizes the importance of 3-pointers. Moreover, the Celtics' defenders can remain near their opponents' shooting range instead of rushing back to the paint, which creates more opportunities for open looks.

During the first half, Boston performed remarkably better than Dallas in their 3-point shooting, effectively doubling them up. It's worth noting that while Dallas is unlikely to continue shooting poorly from long-range and falling behind by such a significant margin, it's still a cause for concern. In this year's playoffs, the team that attempted more 3s won 48 out of 27 (64%) games, with Boston winning 11 out of 12 games when attempting more 3s as opposed to only winning 2 out of 3 games when their opponent attempted more.

The Celtics were particularly successful in preventing Doncic from making corner three-point shots, which he usually generates. Dallas only attempted three shots from the corners, and only one of them was successful, which happened during a time where the game was already out of reach for them. According to Second Spectrum's tracking data, this is the same number of corner three-point shots the Mavericks have attempted all season long.

Porzingis' Return: What Made It Remarkable?

Pelton's blog talked about Celtics' survival amidst a serious loss while making it to the Finals. Despite the talk of Celtics benefiting from injuries, Porzingis' size and shooting ability became a game-changer for Boston. Previously, they had difficulties defending the rim with Horford, who stands at 6-foot-9, as their tallest starter. However, Porzingis' presence made the Celtics impenetrable in the paint. Moreover, Porzingis made a play against Irving's fadeaway, which Horford wouldn't have been able to make in isolation at his age, 38.

Porzingis had an exceptional shooting performance that was difficult for Dallas to defend against. Additionally, he made a noteworthy play where he drove past rookie Dereck Lively II after being pressured on the perimeter. This impressive move would have been impressive even if Porzingis was fully recovered, but considering it was his first game back after over five weeks of being out, it's even more impressive.

Bontemps electrified the arena with his presence. As soon as he stepped onto the court for warmups, the TD Garden shook with excitement. The cheers only grew louder when he was subbed in during the first quarter. His impact on the atmosphere was almost as impactful as his exceptional performance on the court. His offensive floor spacing and defensive rim protection were both spectacular.

Luke Kornet is a dependable reserve center, but it's a slight improvement to replace him with a dominant All-Star caliber big such as Porzingis. The latter delivered precisely the type of impact that was expected from him when he was signed by the Boston team.

Spears was in awe. He couldn't believe it. On media day, Porzingis was seen stretching his calf with two trainers. Spears thought that Porzingis didn't look like somebody who was about to have a great performance after such a long break. However, Porzingis proved him wrong and amazed everyone with his scoring, shot blocking, and rebounding skills. He made history by being the first player to finish with 20 points and three blocks off the bench in an NBA Finals game since Kevin McHale in 1984 when he played against the Los Angeles Lakers. Spears has been watching the NBA for 25 years and has never seen such a dominant return.

According to Myers, the Dallas team did not anticipate the level of excellence displayed by Porzingis.

The team from "NBA Countdown" responded to the Celtics' triumph over the Mavericks in Game 1, and said that Kristaps Porzingis' performance was the crucial factor, as noted by Bob Myers.

Dallas' Game 2 Strategy Overhaul: Key Change Needed

Bontemps believes that it's important to motivate Irving to perform well, especially after his struggles during the Oklahoma City series. In that series, Dallas relied heavily on three-pointers from Washington and Derrick Jones Jr. to survive. However, if Boston can avoid a similar situation and Irving plays at his best, they will have a great chance of winning the championship.

The Mavericks are hoping for a repeat of their successful performance in the Minnesota series during the rest of the Finals where Irving and Doncic consistently broke through the defense and provided exceptional output each night. However, the upcoming challenge is presented by Boston with their tough defenders such as Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown who will take turns guarding the Mavericks on the perimeter.

When Doncic gets off to a quick start, Dallas becomes a unique team. He started off the game with a lot of fury and energy against Minnesota, which made me remember Kobe Bryant. Nevertheless, in their next game against the Celtics, Doncic didn't have the same early momentum and he wasn't able to motivate his colleagues. Despite scoring 30 points, he missed eight shots from beyond the arc and only had one assist.

Pelton wrote about the Mavericks struggling to get the ball moving. They only managed to get nine assists in the game, which is less than what Luka typically does on his own during the regular season (9.8). Interestingly, Doncic only got one assist - the lowest he's ever had when playing at least 35 minutes in an NBA game, whether it's the regular season or playoffs, as reported by ESPN Stats & Information.

Dallas had trouble converting shots from passes in the recent game. Only one out of the six shots they took from passes made by Doncic could have resulted in an assist, as per the data collected by ESPN Stats & Information. This figure is significantly lower than the 57% they achieved in previous postseason games. It is worth noting, though, that Doncic only had six opportunities to pass the ball in this particular playoff game, the lowest he has had so far.

A possible way to succeed is if Doncic tries to drive inside and pass the ball to his teammates when he notices that Horford and Sam Hauser have switched positions, instead of aiming for a jump shot.

How Many Games Will This Series Cover?

According to Bontemps, his prediction of the series ending in six games has not changed based on the outcome of Game 1. However, if the Mavericks can secure a win in Game 2, they will have the advantage of playing at home and still have Doncic as their best player. Despite this, Bontemps believes that the Celtics are the superior team, as evidenced by their performance in Game 1.

According to Spears, the current score is at seven. The first game of the series just took place in Boston, so there's still a long way to go. Spears anticipates that this will be a seven-game series. For the next game, the Mavericks will likely play better. However, it's crucial that their two top players perform better as well. During the period when Doncic was sitting and Irving was playing, the Mavs lost with a score of 19-4.

Pelton had initially thought that the Boston Celtics would win the series in just five games, but eventually chose to predict their victory in seven games. This was because he was unsure of how effective Porzingis would be and because of how well Dallas had played in previous rounds. The Celtics' shot-making ability was a significant factor in their victory, but they were also presented with better chances to score. Surprisingly, Porzingis performed better than expected. Despite Dallas' track record of making comebacks after losing Game 1, something they had done twice in 2022 and also during this year's previous rounds, the Boston Celtics are now seen as the strong favorites to win.

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