NBA: Mavericks can topple favoured Celtics if Doncic and Irving shine together

AP , Wednesday 5 Jun 2024

Luka Doncic scored 12 points in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the first quarter in the Dallas Mavericks' clinching blowout of Minnesota in the Western Conference finals.

Doncic   Irving
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shakes hands with teammate Kyrie Irving (11) after their loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Dallas. Photo: AP


Kyrie Irving scored nine points in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the first half, pushing the lead to 29 on the way to a gaping 36-point margin in the 124-103 victory in Game 5.

When the co-stars of the Mavericks are playing that way, there might not be a team in the NBA that can beat them.

Dallas, the fifth seed in the West, will need more than one such game in the NBA Finals against the favored Boston Celtics, who had the league's best record by seven games and swept the two-game season series.

The Mavs — this deep in the playoffs for the first time since winning the franchise's only championship in 2011 — also will need the defensive intensity both offensive wizards have shown in these playoffs.

“It’s a beautiful combination,” coach Jason Kidd said. “They’re in competition right now of who’s playing the best defense. That’s kind of cool to see because when you look at Kai and Luka, a lot of times they’re not known as our defensive guys.”

Irving and Doncic scored 36 points apiece in the clincher against the Wolves, both shooting better than 50% and combining to make half their 3-pointers.

The Mavs didn't need double figures from anybody off the bench, and barely from the other starters.

They can make that formula work, with at least some help.

P.J. Washington Jr. will draw the difficult defensive assignments against Boston co-stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But the midseason acquisition needs to shoot closer to the 47% from 3-point range that he did in the second-round victory over top-seeded Oklahoma City than the 25% he shot against Minnesota.

The other defense-first starter and key figure in trying to slow Tatum and Brown, Derrick Jones Jr., could provide a boost by matching his 40% shooting from 3 in these playoffs.

Then there's the rim-protecting, pick-and-rolling tandem of centers Daniel Gafford — the other midseason trade pickup along with Washington — and rookie Dereck Lively II.

Those two give Dallas an edge over the Celtics, who have a more perimeter-oriented pairing in Kristaps Porzingis and the undersized Al Horford.

Boston also isn't sure what it will get out of Porzingis with the 7-foot-2 Latvian sidelined since the first round by a calf injury.

The Celtics get the edge in late-playoff experience, but not by much.

They are on a three-year run of reaching the East finals and made the NBA Finals in 2022, losing to Golden State in six games after the Warriors beat Dallas in the West finals.

Irving, however, has the most experience in the series on the NBA's biggest stage, with 13 games in the finals. He ranks eighth among players with at least 10 games with a scoring average of 27.7 points.

Doncic doesn't figure to be spooked by his first NBA Finals. The 25-year-old was playing professionally in Spain a decade ago and was the title-winning EuroLeague MVP days before getting drafted third overall in 2018.

He also is the reason Slovenia reached the medal round as a first-time Olympic qualifier at the Tokyo Games three years ago.

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