Dallas Mavericks – Boston Herald

There are two NBA teams I watch play every game: The Celtics, and the Dallas Mavericks.

I was at the first game the Mavericks played, a win over the San Antonio Spurs and George “The Iceman” Gervin. Ice had 33. Dallas would win only 14 more games in that 1980-81 season which culminated in Larry Bird’s first championship leading the 62-win Celtics over Houston. Here’s a look at the Celtics’ NBA Finals foe Dallas:


Luka Doncic: The 5-time first-team All-NBA swingman, NBA scoring leader (33.9 ppg) and WCF MVP is, at 25, one of the best players in the world. Doncic (6-7, 230) is second all-time in playoff scoring ppg (31.1) behind only Michael Jordan. The hype is real. Luka has incredible range and shot-making ability, gobbles up rebounds, and is an elite passer. Part of the reason he was in the MVP discussion this season is that he improved his defense and free-throw shooting, a career high 78.6 this year (80.6 in these playoffs).

He basically has no weakness, although being so ball-dominant, he led the NBA in turnovers this year with 282. He’s also a bit of a hothead, beefing with referees, but has toned that down a bit during the playoffs.

Teams throw their best defenders at him, and some of them try to rough him up (Lu Dort of OKC, Russell Westbrook of the Clippers, for example). Doncic is beefy and plays physically, and Boston has an array of choices to try and slow him down (Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, Jayson Tatum) but all are smaller and lighter than Luka. Double him, and he has the passing ability to find the open man. Go one-on-one, long night ahead. He plays big in the biggest games and how well the Celtics can moderate his play will be something to watch.

Kyrie Irving: Irving’s two seasons in Boston ended ugly. Fans in Boston don’t like him, but guys like Doncic and Irving tend to actually feed off of that kind of hate. Dallas had success this year with the two-headed backcourt because in crunch time (where Dallas was very successful this season, winning over 70% of those games), doubling one of them means a) the other one is loose and b) role players like P.J. Washington have been capable on three-point shots.

Irving, 32, is undersized at 6-2, 195 but his elite handles allow him to get wherever he wants on the floor. He’s deceptively quick and explosive and most likely will draw single coverage. How the Celtics choose to guard these two will be a test of coach Joe Mazzulla’s “pick your poison” strategy.

Dallas’ giving up on Kristaps Porzingis (who had injury issues … sound familiar?) indirectly led to the acquisition of Irving after Jalen Brunson left to join the Knicks.

Irving’s eccentricities and questionable off-court decisions (logo-stomping, the anti-semitic tropes, the flat earth views, and refusal to take the Covid vaccine forcing his limited availability while with Brooklyn) were packed amongst his baggage when he came to Dallas, but by all accounts he’s been a model citizen there and has many supporters, with his current team and around the league. Part of that seems to be his determination to get another ring, and this is as close as he’s gotten in a long time. He’s a great shooter, deadly at the foul line (88.6 career), and hard to rattle, even when water bottles are thrown at him.

Even more than Doncic, Celtics fans dread the idea of Kyrie being successful. Breaking up is hard to do.

P.J. Washington: The Dallas-area native languished in Charlotte before coming to the Mavericks when they gave up on poor fit Grant Williams. Washington’s been a wild card contributor during his first playoffs, with three 20-point games against the Thunder and a tendency to show up in key moments. Washington also handles much of the primary on-ball defense against an opponent’s top threat, so he’ll see lots of time against Tatum and Brown. He’s had some foul troubles and that has forced Mavs coach Jason Kidd to shuffle his rotation at times. If Washington avoids fouls, he can be a factor.

Derrick Jones Jr.: Pulled off the scrap heap, Jones’ 5th NBA team in 8 seasons has benefited from the high flyer’s acceptance of his role in Dallas. He established career highs in virtually every category this year while making 66 starts. He specializes in on-ball defense and attacking the rim

Daniel Gafford: Rescued from the Wizards at the trade deadline, Gafford and rookie C Dereck Lively II have given Dallas top-notch rim-running and shot-blocking. Gafford at one point this season made 33 consecutive shots, just two off Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time streak.

In the rotation

Dereck Lively II: The Duke rookie turned 20 mid-season, and the team has embraced him as he deals with the death of his mother in April. Kidd has been reluctant generally to give younger players minutes, but Lively opened the year as a starter and while being displaced by Gafford still usually finds his way onto the floor in crunch time. He’s been getting coaching from Tyson Chandler, who had a similar skill set as a member of Dallas’ only title team in 2011.

Josh Green: One of 8 foreign-born Mavericks (including fellow Australians Dante Exum and Irving), Green is an energy guy who plays fast and can dunk and shoot 3s. He’s often Kidd’s first sub after Lively.

Maxi Kleber: The second-best player ever to come out of Wurzburg, Germany (Dallas had the best one, too), Kleber is a “3-and-D” guy who isn’t really great at 3-ing or D-ing. He’s slowing down, and his shot is less reliable. He also suffered a severe right shoulder dislocation mid-playoffs and is less confident on the floor. Kidd liked to play Kleber in crunch time, a go-to that was affected by Kleber’s injury.

Jaden Hardy: The explosive second-year player has surprisingly gotten more minutes as the playoffs have gone on. Hardy is seizing the opportunity as Tim Hardaway Jr.’s game has deserted him.

Deep bench

Tim Hardaway Jr.: He came to Dallas in the Porzingis trade. The shoot-first guard has the potential to light up the scoreboard but has had the yips since mid-season and has fallen out of Kidd’s rotation.

Dante Exum: Another player who the Mavs took a flyer on, he was solid earlier in the season but now rarely leaves the bench as Kidd has shortened his rotation.


Jason Kidd: Has taken Dallas to the WCF twice and the Finals once in three years after replacing Rick Carlisle. Unlike in the regular season, he’s kept guys on a short leash and substitutes aren’t getting a lot of run time if they don’t show results quickly.


Dallas knocked off seeds 1, 3 and 4 in the West to get here. They’re legit. They don’t have anyone who can guard Porzingis, if he’s back, and would likely stick Washington on him on the perimeter. Doncic will be the engine on offense, and if the Mavs hit 3s, it will be a series. They’re a better defensive team than they get credit for and will be tougher to beat than Miami, Cleveland or Indiana was. They’re a little ahead of schedule to make it this far, so all the pressure is on the 64-win team with home court advantage. The Celtics won almost every game in the playoffs when it came down to crunch time, but that’s also when Dallas has been one of the league’s best at closing games. If the Celtics try and play with their food, they’re playing with fire.

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