NBA Finals preview: Doncic vs Tatum, Irving and Porzingis face former teams as Mavericks, Celtics battle for Larry O’ Brien trophy

Published June 5, 2024, 1:15 PMPao Ambat

The Boston Celtics are gunning for a record-breaking 18th title, while the Dallas Mavericks are aiming for a second championship in franchise history.

Two of the league’s most dynamic duos collide on the biggest stage as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics square off with Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving and the Dallas Mavericks. | Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

It’s this time of the year again, NBA fans. 

From 16 teams, down to eight, to four, and then there were two.  

Two teams are left standing: the Boston Celtics from the East and the Dallas Mavericks representing the West. Both are set to meet for the prestigious Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy beginning on Friday, June 7 (PH time). 

The only team this season to reach 60+ victories this season, the 64-win Celtics are in their second NBA Finals trip in the last three seasons, riding a dominating playoff run so far that saw them lose just twice en route to the Finals. 


 Behind the most efficient offense in league history, this Celtics team--bannered by the one of the game’s most dynamic wing duos in Jayson Tatum and Eastern Conference finals MVP Jaylen Brown--are poised to finally bring the NBA title back to Beantown. 


However, standing in their way is the redeemed fifth-seed Dallas Mavericks squad, a franchise which had to wait 13 long years to return to the big dance. 


A season removed from missing the postseason, the Mavericks had a full season to work out the chemistry between their talented backcourt superstars in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.


In the trade deadline in February, Dallas added big man Daniel Gafford and two-way P.J. Washington to the squad, meshing perfectly with Doncic and Irving to create a giant killer in the Western Conference.

Will Boston capture its 18th championship and set an NBA record, or will Dallas lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time since 2011, when coach Jason Kidd, as a player, helped the Mavericks to their only title?

Road to the NBA Finals

Boston Celtics

The Celtics steamrolled into the regular season, claiming their first 60-win regular season since the 2007-08 season where they ultimately won their last title.

In a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics sent the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat packing in the opening round, beating them in five games before eliminating the fourth-seed Cleveland Cavaliers in five games as well. Donovan Mitchell did not play in the last two games of that series due to a strained calf injury.

[ALSO READ: Celtics turn back short-handed Cavaliers to book third straight East Finals trip]

The Celtics made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in the last five years. They went on to sweep the Indiana Pacers with superstar Tyrese Haliburton missing the last two games due to a knee injury.

[ALSO READ: Clutch Celtics close out Pacers for East Finals sweep, book second Finals trip in three years]

With a smooth-sailing playoff run so far, the Celtics are also undefeated so far on the road in this playoffs (6-0) with all of their losses so far coming at home. 

Road to the NBA Finals


Dallas Mavericks 

Unlike the Celtics, the Mavericks overcame homecourt disadvantage in each of the first three rounds while eliminating three of the West's top four seeds--the no. 4 LA Clippers, the West no. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder, and the No. 3 Minnesota Timberwolves--thanks to their superstar duo, depth and defense. 


 Doncic and Irving consistently excelled in clutch situations while Washington, Derrick Jones Jr. and rookie Dereck Lively II, all acquired over the past year as general manager Nico Harrison constructed a long and springy supporting cast around the Mavs' star tandem, have made major contributions on both ends of the floor.


 Doncic, a NBA MVP finalist this year, shrugged off some knee problems and endured some shooting slumps throughout the postseason with a variety of herculean efforts that include posting six triple-doubles, drilling a winning step-back 3-pointer in Game 2 over Rudy Gobert, and setting the tone for the Game 5 closeout rout by scoring 20 points in the first quarter. 


[ALSO READ: Mavericks blast Timberwolves in Game 5, enter first NBA Finals in 13 years]


In 17 playoff games so far, the Slovenian superstar is averaging 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists in almost 42 minutes of playing. 

Celtics-Mavericks 2024 NBA regular season head-to-head 

Boston took both games against Dallas this season, winning 119-110 on the Mavericks’ court on Jan. 22, then beating them again behind a 138-110 beatdown back at home on March 1. 


Storylines to watch: 

Doncic-Irving vs. Tatum-Brown: Which duo will perform best in NBA Finals?

It’s an easy script. One that writes itself. One that should entertain and captivate the basketball audience before ultimately deciding who wins the 2024 NBA championship.

One script, two duos.

Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

In their first postseason together, Luka and Kyrie did not disappoint. The Mavs duo averaged 51.6 points, 14.0 assists, and 13.5 rebounds through three rounds, creating insurmountable matchup problems for the Clippers, Thunder and Timberwolves along the way. 



Doncic averaged 32 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists against Minnesota en route to winning the Magic Johnson Western Conference Finals MVP plum. 


Luka was a problem for the Celtics during the regular season, averaging a 35-point, 15-rebound, and 12-assist triple double in two games and Kyrie, wounded during his unfulfilled two-year stint in Boston, is bringing motivation (More on this later.) 



Meanwhile, Tatum and Brown are averaging a combined 51.0 points, 16.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists and the duo’s constant attack puts the Heat, Cavaliers and Pacers in deep trouble.

Brown, who averaged nearly 30 points in a four-game sweep of the Pacers, claimed the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy


After years of outside chatter questioning their chemistry — some of it legit, some not — Tatum and Brown have put that to rest. They seem quite cozy on the court and happy with each other’s success. And that’s all that counts.


 The four are without a doubt the stars in the series, and while others will help determine the outcome, those four will have the biggest impact.

Defending the Duos

We got the offense first so why not turn our attention on defense, right? 


 Irving and Doncic will now face a backcourt tandem that are primarily tasked to stop offensive juggernauts like them. 


 Jrue Holiday and Derrick White earned spots on the All-Defensive 2nd Team and have built their reputations over years of making offensive counterparts uncomfortable. They’re disruptive and sticky, capable of ball pressure that can throw off even Doncic’s late-clock decisions or Irving’s highlight finishes. 




On the other hand, the assignment of guarding both Tatum and Brown will fall likely to the hands of Derrick Jones Jr. and P.J. Washington. 


 Jones is athletic and springy but is at a strength disadvantage while Washington, trapped in Charlotte for his career until now, has never been in a spot this big in his life. And if either player gets in foul trouble—which is certainly possible—the Mavs would turn to Josh Green and Dante Exum, a pair of untested guards. 


Overall, the Celtics are bringing more proven defenders against Luka and Kyrie than the Mavericks will throw at Tatum and Brown but in a seven-game series, you’ll never know what to expect. 

No love lost for Irving, Celtics

This Celtics team falling short of Banner 18 would be devastating against any opponent. But against Kyrie Irving? Arguably Boston's greatest sports villain? Now that would sting.


 After spending his first eight seasons with Cleveland, Irving was traded to Boston in hopes of getting out of the shadows of teammate Lebron James.  


 However, he infamously left the Celtics in 2019 after telling fans during an event at TD Garden that he planned on re-signing. And although he played at an All-Star level during his two seasons with Boston, he repeatedly miffed C's fans with controversial remarks that put his leadership ability in question.


 Since his departure, Irving has been greeted with boos any time he touches the ball against the former team at the Garden. Boston's disdain for Irving reached another level after Game 4 of the 2021 Celtics-Nets first-round playoff series when he stomped on the Celtics' logo at midcourt.



Expect the Boston crowd to rain loud boos and crude language on Kyrie. Irving remains public enemy No. 1, and his being in Boston's way of hanging Banner 18 is the obvious top storyline for this series.

Kristaps Porzingis vs. Dallas

Mavericks fans have their own villain for this series: big man Kristaps Porzingis.


 Dallas traded for Porzingis at the 2019 deadline while he was recovering from ACL surgery. While the 7-foot-3 Latvian mostly played well during his two-plus seasons with the Mavs, he continued to be plagued by injuries. 


 The sweet-shooting Latvian played in only 57 games in 2019-20 and just 43 of Dallas' 72 games during the 2020-21 campaign, before tearing his meniscus during the 2020 playoffs. He struggled in the first round of the 2021 playoffs vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.


 After a brief stint in the Wizards, Porzingis flourished as third option in Boston, averaging 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 51.6 percent from the field.



However, the big man suffered a calf injury during Boston’s first-round series against the Miami Heat on April 29 but the 28-year-old is expected to return to play barring any setback in the Finals opener on Friday (PH time). 


 "That is the plan right now," Porzingis said of returning to play. "Again, it's a couple more days, and I think that could make a difference. Every day gives me a bit more time to get even better."


 As of facing his former team, the Mavericks: 


 "I think it's gonna be great. I played there for 2½ years and I'm happy for everybody in Dallas. A lot of like great relationships I have there and I think they deserve to have some success like they've had this season.


 "It's gonna be fun going up against my old team, going back to Dallas, playing some games there. Looking forward to it."


First-ever Boston vs. Dallas championship matchup


Not only is it the first time the C's and Mavs have met in the Finals, but this is the first Boston vs. Dallas championship showdown in any major sport.

 For the second straight year, a first time Finals match-ups will be contested after last season’s Nuggets-Heat encounter. 

J-Kidd vs. Joe Mazzulla: The Coaching Battle

Jason Kidd is returning to a familiar place, but this time as a coach. 


 Kidd helped then superstar Dirk Nowitzki and Mavericks hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first and only time so far in their franchise history, beating the Heatles of Lebron, D-Wade and Chirs Bosh in six games. 


 With a win in the NBA Finals, Jason Kidd would join an elite list of people who have won NBA championships as both players and coaches. He would become the 15th player to do so, joining K.C. Jones, Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Pat Riley, Red Holzman, Larry Costello, George Senesky, Buddy Jeanette, Rick Carlisle, Steve Kerr, and Tyronn Lue.


Kidd would also become the second coach in Mavericks history to win the NBA championship as a player and a coach, as Rick Carlisle did the same when he led the Mavericks, who had Jason Kidd as a player, to the NBA championship.


Mazzulla, on the other hand, is the youngest head coach to reach the NBA Finals since Bill Russell in 1969.


 In his first NBA Finals trip as a head coach, Mazzulla has lead assistant Charles Lee and Sam Cassell have helped him to tweak a system built around 3-point shooting and defense, which saw the Celtics rank first and third, respectively, in offensive and defensive rating during the regular season.


Those rankings have remained the same this postseason for a team that is 6-0 on the road and 3-0 in close-out games.


 In a place where the light shines the brightest, which coach will win the battle of wits and adjustments? 


 So that’s it. Who’s your pick to win it all, NBA fans and in how many games?