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Will The Boston Celtics Finally Breakthrough?

During the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown era, the Boston Celtics have reached the Eastern Conference Finals five times out of the last six years. They made the NBA Finals in 2022, but Stephen Curry put on a masterclass performance to claim his fourth ring. The Celtics defense couldn’t prepare for his legendary skill set, and they were defeated in six games. Tatum and Brown were given the benefit of the doubt about their potential because of who they lost to; the following year was almost inexcusable when the 8th-seeded Miami Heat nearly swept them. They came back in the series to lose in Game 7, and the team was ridiculed for the loss by multiple media outlets, but the loss didn’t stop the Celtics front office from giving Brown the largest contract in NBA history.

Their decision to extend him was mandatory for them to win the Larry O’Brien trophy, and he has rewarded the franchise with outstanding performances this season. Unfortunately, the 3x NBA All-Star wasn’t voted to the 2024 All-NBA team, but league spectators are aware of how talented he is. His performance throughout the playoffs has been impressive, and now it is time for Tatum, as team leader, to lead his franchise to their 18th NBA championship. 

Tatum struggled during the Heat series and returned to form the next two series. He decimated the Cavaliers and Pacers with outstanding performances in every game he played. Now, he and Brown must be at their absolute best to match the intensity of the surging Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks . Kyrie Irving has taken the Mavericks offense to the next level with his superstar talent. PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford have transformed the team’s defense, adding another layer to their identity after some mid-season trades.  

It will be the Celtics 2nd time in the NBA Finals in three years and the first time for the Mavericks outside of Irving. It will be a different pressure level for the Mavericks, but the Celtics have been under the most pressure all year. They have been considered the favorites to win the championship since October, and now, after making it this far again, they must return to Massachusetts with gold. Doncic and Irving will be the most challenging offense they have faced all year, while rookie Dereck Lively II has played outstanding during his first playoff run. 

Now that Kristaps Porzingis has returned to the lineup, they are at full power, which is a massive problem for any team. Their five-out offensive system is the most efficient in the league when Porzingis is healthy. His 7 '3 height, accompanied by his 3-point shot, is hard to defend due to his towering size, and he is consistent at 37.5% from beyond the arc. He hasn’t played since the Heat series, so he might take a game or two to reacclimate. However, the Celtics’ medical staff is one of the best in the league and he wouldn’t be eligible unless they we fully confident about his health. During the NBA Finals media day, he provided an update on his injury status. 

“ It was a long road to get to this point for me, but I am feeling good and looking forward to today’s practice, moving around a little bit more, and being ready to go tomorrow,” Porzingis said. “ It burned inside of me not being able to be out there, but tomorrow, I'll finally get the chance.”

Porzingis seems ready for the moment, and his presence has increased the Celtic chances exponentially. His interior defense will also give the Mavericks problems when they try to penetrate the lane, but Doncic will be able to score at all three levels regardless of what the Celtics throw at him. The 2024 NBA scoring champion has been unstoppable in the playoffs this year and scored on the Defensive Player Of The Year Rudy Gobert multiple times during the Western Conference Semifinals versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is also dealing with a knee injury that has bothered him all playoffs, and even though he’s maintained his composure, the Finals will bring a different level of physicality for Doncic because of his superstar status. 

For the Celtics to defeat the Mavericks, they must be the better team when all the stars are off the floor. They have a superior bench to the Mavericks, with shooters like Payton Pritchard and Al Horford in their 2nd unit. Horford is also a terrific defensive anchor and his veteran presence is massive for the Celtics. His efforts are mandatory for them to win because of his physicality, and his match-up off the bench will be Maxi Kleber. Dante Exum, Jaden Hardy, and Josh Green have never played in an environment like the Finals. Pritchard, Sam Hauser, and Luke Kornet were all a part of the Celtics team that made the finals in 2022.

Irving is the only Maverick with a winning championship experience and will be one of the best players on the floor. Brown will have to raise his game even more as all four superstars battle it out all series. Given both teams ' talent, the series could quickly go six to seven games. Analyzing the optics of the series, we can see that the Celtics have everything they need to defeat the Mavericks due to their offense and defense. They’re among the best teams on both sides of the floor, but nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. 

Irving is going into the series with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s had masterclasses on the world stage in the most significant moments. Jrue Holiday will exhaust himself all series trying to contain Irving’s offensive threat, and Tatum or Brown will guard Doncic depending on Joe Mazulla’s defensive set. Even though it will be a series filled with incredible matchups, the entire sports world will have its eyes on Doncic versus Tatum. Both are around the same age and are destined to make the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame if they can avoid career-ending injuries. They will be the best two players on the floor, and this could be the beginning of a potential rivalry between the two young superstars. It’s only the fourth NBA finals with two players averaging 25/5/5, and Doncic will be a massive test for Tatum. It will be one of the best Finals in recent memory, and the Celtics are fully healthy with all of their different lineups available. 

June 6th will mark the beginning of the end for the NBA’s 75th season, and it's incredibly poetic how one of the league’s most successful teams has a chance to claim the championship at the end of one of the most successful seasons for the league. The Celtics could finally begin their reign of dominance in the Tatum and Brown era. Brown is 27 years old, Tatum is 26, and both are just now entering their physical primes. These finals will determine their legacy in Boston and decide if the core is truly good enough to get it done. They have the opportunity to right their wrongs from the last two years or suffer a similar fate.


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