Three Storylines Heading Into Celtics-Mavericks NBA Finals Clash

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The Boston Celtics made the way of shame and disappointment during their last trip to the NBA Finals — just two years ago — watching confetti fall at TD Garden as a reminder of what could’ve been in Game 6.

However, with a clean slate, a more experienced crew, and a new opponent in the Dallas Mavericks comes a whole new wave of angles and narratives to consider. The league-best 64-win Celtics not only met expectations but raised the bar after not letting go of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference since re-taking it back on Nov. 14, therefore, the leeway of 2022 is long gone. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are entering a must-win series that’ll ultimately determine whether or not the 2023-24 Celtics were a complete failure or not.

The same can’t be said for Dallas. After escaping a crowded Western Conference as the fifth seed, the Mavericks have found their way to raising their bar. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have lowed the volumes of the naysayers, materializing the duo as one capable of housing a Larry O’Brien Trophy when the dust is settled.

Dallas left its mark on the West after leaving the Clippers, Thunder, and Timberwolves in the rear-view mirror while Boston is fighting for its record-setting 18th title after years of underachievement.

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Here are three storylines to be mindful of before Thursday night’s Game 1:

1. Kyrie Irving vs. the entire city of Boston
It’s been five years since Irving departed the Celtics, leaving a promise of re-signing with Boston unfulfilled to become the team’s biggest enemy.

Irving’s issues with the fan base, local media and struggles to guide a young Celtics locker room spoiled a potential multi-championship run. Boston’s investment and acquisition for beloved guard Isaiah Thomas (plus more) took a turn for the worse, leading Irving to a second straight failed run — with the Nets — before haggling Brooklyn’s front office for a trade to Dallas.

“I had a rough time when I was in Boston, just dealing with death in my family and dealing with a lot of off-court stuff that I wasn’t ready to handle,” Irving told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt after Dallas punched its ticket to the Finals. “Now that I’m in a great place to be able to vocalize how I’m feeling, I’m ready to go back into Boston and have fun with my teammates. I know we’re gonna be locked in and we’re going against a great Boston team that’s earned their way to the NBA Finals.”

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Boston’s TD Garden crowd has already dealt with postseason enemies in Caleb Martin, Max Strus, and Aaron Nesmith, however, Irving’s boos will have Celtics fans turning their volume nob on max — especially with an opportunity to raise Banner 18 on the line.

2. Jason Kidd vs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (Brooklyn’s 2013 colossal screw-up)
Before Kidd began drawing up plays for Irving and Doncic, the Basketball Hall of Famer was spilling cups of soda on the sidelines with the Nets — probably still in shock by the front office’s fumble of a lifetime.

In 2013, to officially end Paul Pierce’s time in Boston, the Celtics traded “The Truth” along with Kevin Garnett (plus Jason Terry and D.J. White) to Brooklyn. Boston landed five players and three first-round picks, two of which became Tatum and Brown; while the Nets, on the other hand, failed at forming a super team with a core well beyond its heyday and coached by Kidd.

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Looking at what Boston got in its side of the deal, Kidd had no choice but to credit the team led by two well-established All-Stars that just happened to fleece Brooklyn over a decade ago.

“They’re well-coached,” Kidd told reporters Sunday, per Grant Afseth of MavericksGameday.com. “Joe (Mazzulla) is one of the best coaches in this league. They’ve been there before, they have talented players, duos; if you wanna look at two, if you want to look at three, if you want to look at five. They have quite a few guys that can play the game.”

3. Kristaps Porzingis vs. Luka Doncic
After Porzingis was nicknamed “The Unicorn” in New York, the All-Star center got his first chance at forming a super team duo with the Mavericks.

Dallas paired Porzingis and Doncic together in 2019, shocking the league just ahead of the trade deadline. At the time, the swap seemed like a double-sided win. The Mavericks needed to surround their upcoming franchise star with some assistance and Porzingis got a chance to help turn Dallas into a legitimate contender in the West.

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Yet, that’s not how everything went down.

“I wasn’t that much into analytics and numbers,” Porzingis told JJ Redick on “The Old Man & The Three” podcast in December. “If somebody at that stage of my career presented it to me the right way and said, ‘This is what we need to do. This is what we need from you. You’re going to be way more effective doing this,’ and explained it to me better, I think that would have made a difference a little bit.”

Bad blood didn’t exactly hinder the Porzingis-Doncic tandem from working out, but it’s clear the two weren’t on the same page. Meeting again with a few more years under their belts, plus new-and-improved teammate situations, Porzingis and Doncic will make their respective Finals debuts, each looking to showcase their growth since the Dallas breakup.

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