NBA Finals Film Room: How the Celtics Completely Outplayed the Mavs


The Boston Celtics defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 in the 2024 NBA Finals. Star forward Jaylen Brown was named Finals MVP.

Brown averaged 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 44/23/73 shooting splits in the Finals.

It was not even a bad matchup for Dallas. Boston was simply the best team – winning a league-best 64 games this season.

Here’s how Boston won the championship and how Dallas lost it:

How Boston took home banner #18

Boston made 38.8 percent of their 3-pointers in the regular season, good for second best in the league.

Here were Boston’s 3-point numbers in the Finals:

  • Game 1: 16-42 (38 percent)
  • Game 2: 10-39 (25 percent)
  • Game 3: 17-46 (37 percent)
  • Game 4: 14-41 (34 percent)
  • Game 5: 13-39 (33 percent)

Despite shooting well below their season average in three of five Finals games, the Celtics only needed five games to finish off the Mavericks.

Boston was a team with very few flaws. One of their flaws and X-factors was Jayson Tatum‘s pull up 3-pointer— a shot that tends to be streaky.

Even though Tatum’s 3-point percentage (26 percent) in the Finals wasn’t so sexy, he still hit some pull up 3-pointers that helped spark a run or extend Boston’s momentum. 

Brown — who was heavily criticized for his ability to drive and dribble to his off hand last season — was outstanding defensively and cutting to the rim.

On this play, Brown is the low-man defender and he times it perfectly rotate and to break up the alley-oop. He then again protects the rim with a strong block at the summit.

Brown was terrific on backdoor and slots cuts— catching defenders ball-watching and then cutting into the sightline of his teammates to make himself available at the rim.

Regarded as one of the elite role players in the league, All-NBA defensive selection Derrick White continued to make winning plays.

On this play, the Mavericks are in semi-transition. White’s IQ instinctively takes over. With all five defenders back on defense and only three Mavericks in the front court, White sees no consequences gambling for a steal and chases Luka Doncic down to take the basketball away.

The Celtics made a nightmare for opposing defenses to defend them all season long.

Many times, the Mavericks were unable to unleash Dereck Lively and Daniel Gafford‘s rim protection against the Celtics’ five-out offense.

As Lively traps the box on a Tatum post-up, the basketball swings around the perimeter before Lively can recover back to his man (Brown) in the corner.

Boston’s combination of having two wings being able to shot create and the floor spacing around them made it a nightmare to defend.

Boston’s offense just has so many options.

As Brown creates dribble penetration, Lively slides in and commits to help by leaving his feet.

Kristaps Porzingis has multiple options as he reads his defender, Lively. He can stay stationary and be ready for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer (and swing the basketball if the Mavericks rotate) or he can follow cut and make himself available in the dunker spot.

Porzingis makes the correct read to follow cut as Lively is committed to shot-blocking Brown’s potential shot.

P.J. Washington is late to help the helper (Lively) and Porzingis flushes it home.

How Dallas lost – and what they could have done

All year long, the Celtics ran a heavy switch defense. One of the best counters to a switching defense is to slip the screen.

Sometimes on switches, a defender can get caught on the high side of the screen and end up behind their assignment after a switch.

Here, Jrue Holiday gets caught on the high side of Gafford’s screen and Doncic has an opportunity to hit Gafford open on the roll.

Instead, Doncic goes into an isolation against the switch and takes a contested 3-pointer.

Boston understood their personnel and had no problem helping off below-average shooters that needed space to hit 3-pointers. And at times, that led to Doncic attempting to take matters into his own hands.

White shows nail help to Doncic’s post up. He helps off Josh Green, who shot 38 percent from downtown on 3.3 attempts in the regular season.

Doncic is one pass away to a wide open Green on the wing, but decides to take a shot with two defenders hounding him and puts up an airball.

Clearly, the Celtics were going to live with leaving Green wide open for 3 without any rotation or stunt.

The Mavericks’ defense had little room for error against the Celtics’ vaunted offense.

A key part of help defense is the timing— when to help off your man.

Here, Lively traps the box on Tatum’s drive and has to trust the help behind him.

However, Washington is just a beat late helping the helper and getting in front of Brown to prevent a dunk.

It’s a difficult defensive coverage to execute— as soon as the pass is heading to Brown, Washington has to position himself between Brown and the rim to have a shot of challenging the dunk.

And Washington has to make sure his assignment, Al Horford, a 42 percent knockdown shooter, does not get a clean look.

Dallas’ bread and butter all postseason long were their lobs to the rim.

This is a lob to Derrick Jones Jr. rolling on the side of the strong side corner. This is a difficult play for the strong-side corner defender, White, to help out of.

It puts him in a position to either stay home on his man (Washington) and trust the pick-and-roll coverage in front of him, or White has to immediately help on the roll man and get his body in front of Jones to challenge the lob pass.

More of these plays could have created advantages for Dallas.

Doncic received a ton of criticism for his defense.

Dallas understood Doncic’s defensive lapses and appeared to live with him being hunted by the Celtics.

However, Doncic’s off-ball defense also had him looking like a deer in headlights.

Doncic gets caught ball-watching and his assignment, Holiday, disappears out of his sightline and cuts behind Doncic for a layup.

That play can garner “defensive liability.” But if Doncic could clean up his off-ball defense, Dallas can live with his defensive deficiencies on the ball.

Kyrie Irving averaged 19.8 points in the Finals on 41/27/100 shooting splits. It was by far his worst scoring and shooting splits output in his three Finals appearances (outside of the 2015 Finals when he played in just one game).

Just plays like these, he had to finish to give Dallas a fighting chance.

Irving gets the switch with Horford, blows by him, has a good angle at the rim and simply smokes the layup. That cannot happen for Dallas’ second option.

The five-seed Mavericks overachieved as they made the Finals. But one could also say with the most talented backcourt in the league, they simply achieved a Finals appearance.

As the most talented team, Boston achieved a championship.

Boston was the most dominant team this season. After numerous Conference Finals appearances and a Finals appearance two years prior, the duo of Tatum and Brown broke through at the ages of 26 and 27 respectively.

The team with the best regular-season record won the title for the first time since the 2017 Golden State Warriors.

About Mac Pham

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