Celtics command the Garden: Biggest takeaways of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Boston and Dallas (2024)

  • NBA Insiders

Jun 7, 2024, 12:00 AM ET

The 2024 NBA Finals tipped off with a dominant Game 1 win by the Boston Celtics over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.

The series couldn't have started any better for the Celtics, who used a 23-5 run over the final six minutes of the first quarter to build a comfortable lead. Boston's defense continued to give Dallas fits throughout the half, limiting the Western Conference champion to 42 points, its second-lowest first-half point total of the 2024 playoffs.

The 21-point lead the Celtics enjoyed at halftime started to evaporate in the third quarter as Luka Doncic & Co. were able to cut their deficit to single digits, but Boston's ability to limit Dallas' role players was too much to overcome. (Doncic recorded 30 points and 10 rebounds, but his one assist was a postseason career low.)

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 22 points and, most notably, Kristaps Porzingis made an impressive return from a calf injury that had sidelined the 7-foot-3 center since the opening round. He finished Game 1 with 20 points and three blocks.

The Mavericks will try to even the series in Sunday's Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but while we wait, let's take a look at what stood out to our NBA insiders from Thursday night.

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

What Game 1 trend could define the series?

Tim Bontemps: Boston's ability to guard Dallas. Kyrie Irving went 6-for-19 and 0-for-5 from 3. Doncic finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds but had just one assist -- the fewest he's had in a game this season and ever in a postseason -- and Dallas had nine as a team. Much of that defensive success came from Boston's defensive versatility and its ability to throw multiple defenders at Dallas' stars without doubling. Doncic has torn apart double teams throughout the playoffs, and by being able to stay at home, Boston prevented Mavs' role players such as P.J. Washington from getting going.

Marc Spears: Tatum doesn't have to play well for the Celtics to beat the Mavericks. The Boston star had a subpar night -- 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting with a game-high six turnovers -- but it didn't matter. The Celtics have too many other offensive options (six players finished scoring double figures), especially if Porzingis stays healthy. But what will happen in this series when Tatum turns it on?

Kevin Pelton: Boston's advantage in 3-point attempts. Although both of these teams believe in the 3 -- the Mavericks (44) finished behind only the Celtics (47) in the percentage of their regular-season attempts behind the arc -- there are levels to their commitment. The 3 is practically an article of faith for coach Joe Mazzulla, and Boston's ability to switch a variety of pick-and-roll combinations allows Celtics defenders to stay home rather than having to help in the paint and surrendering open looks.

The result was Boston doubling up Dallas beyond the arc in the first half. And while the Mavericks won't continue to shoot as poorly from downtown as they did in falling behind by 29 points, that's a concern. The team that has attempted more 3s has gone 48-27 (.640) in this year's playoffs, including Boston going 11-1 as compared to 2-1 when the opponent shoots more.

In particular, the Celtics did a great job of taking away the corner 3 attempts Doncic typically creates. Dallas went 1-of-3 from the corners, with the lone make coming from Josh Green in garbage time. Per Second Spectrum tracking, that tied the fewest corner 3-point attempts for the Mavericks all season.

What stood out from Porzingis' return?

Pelton: For all the talk about the Celtics benefiting from injuries on their way to the Finals, what stood out was how they also survived a serious loss of their own. Porzingis' size and shooting ability tilted the game in Boston's direction as soon as he checked in. A Celtics team that had struggled to defend the rim with 6-foot-9 Al Horford as its tallest starter was suddenly impenetrable in the paint, and Porzingis' block on a Kyrie Irving's fadeaway was a play Horford is no longer capable of making in isolation at age 38.

Offensively, Porzingis' shooting was too much for Dallas to handle. And Porzingis driving past Dereck Lively II after the rookie pressured him on the perimeter was a play that would have been impressive if Porzingis was at full strength, let alone playing for the first time in more than five weeks.

Bontemps: The energy he brought to the building. When he walked out to the court during warmups, the roof just about came off TD Garden, and it got even louder when he checked in during the first quarter. That meant almost as much as his play on the court, which was spectacular at both ends, between his floor spacing offensively and rim protection defensively.

Luke Kornet is a solid backup center, but it's a slight upgrade to go from him to an All-Star caliber big in Porzingis, who delivered exactly the impact he was brought to Boston to provide.

Spears: I was stunned. During much of the Celtics' media day availability on Wednesday, Porzingis was with two trainers on the calf stretch board. That didn't look like someone who was on the verge of an amazing performance after a long break. But Porzingis was special with his scoring, shot blocking and rebounding. He became the first player to finish with at least 20 points and three blocks off the bench in a NBA Finals game since Kevin McHale in 1984 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. I can't say I've ever seen such a dominant return in 25 years of watching the NBA.

Celtics command the Garden: Biggest takeaways of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Boston and Dallas (2)play

Myers: Dallas 'wasn't prepared' for Porzingis' brilliance

The "NBA Countdown" crew reacts to the Celtics' decisive Game 1 win over the Mavericks, with Bob Myers pointing to Kristaps Porzingis' production as the key.

The biggest change Dallas needs to make in Game 2 is _____

Bontemps: Getting Irving going. If this is a repeat of the Oklahoma City series, when Irving struggled and Dallas survived on a heavy diet of 3-pointers from Washington and Derrick Jones Jr., Boston will be a massive favorite to win the title.

The Mavericks need the rest of the Finals to resemble the Minnesota series, where Irving and Doncic gashed the defense and gave Dallas big-time production nightly. This is the challenge Boston presents, however, with Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown taking turns guarding the Mavericks on the perimeter.

Spears: Dallas is special when Doncic gets off to a fast start. He played with an anger and ferocity against Minnesota that reminds me of Kobe Bryant. Perhaps it was the length of the Celtics defense, but Doncic didn't start off fast nor did he get his teammates going -- he scored 30 but missed eight 3s and just had one assist.

Pelton: Finding a way to get the ball moving. The Mavericks had fewer assists (nine) than Luka averaged by himself in the regular season (9.8). Doncic's one assist was the fewest ever when he's played at least 35 minutes in an NBA game, per ESPN Stats & Information, regular season or playoffs.

Some of the issue was Dallas' ability to make shots created by the pass. The Mavericks shot just 1-of-6 off Doncic's passes that could have led to assists, according to ESPN Stats & Information, as compared to 57% previously this postseason. But those six assist opportunities were also the fewest Luka has had in a playoff game.

One potential solution: Doncic looking to drive and dish when he forces Horford and Sam Hauser to switch out on him rather than playing for pull-up jumpers.

BONUS: This series will go ______ games?

Bontemps: Six. Nothing that happened in Game 1 has changed my prediction. If the Mavericks can win Game 2, all of a sudden they have home-court advantage and still have the series' best player in Doncic. But the Celtics remain the overall better team and it showed in Game 1.

Spears: Seven. It's just Game 1, and it was in Boston. I still expect a long, seven-game series. The Mavericks will play better in Game 2, but both their stars need to step up. When Doncic sat and Irving was on the floor, the Mavs were outscored 19-4.

Pelton: Five. I was tempted to pick Boston in five games coming into the series but went with Celtics in seven because of the uncertainty surrounding Porzingis' effectiveness and how well Dallas played throughout the West playoffs. The margin was so lopsided in no small part because of Boston's shot-making edge, but the Celtics were also getting better opportunities and Porzingis looked better than anyone could have reasonably expected. Despite Dallas' recent playoff history of coming back after losing Game 1 -- something it did twice in 2022 and in this year's first two rounds -- Boston is now a heavy favorite.

Celtics command the Garden: Biggest takeaways of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Boston and Dallas (2024)


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