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2024 NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks vs. Boston Celtics series picks and predictions

And then there were two.

The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics will face off for the NBA Championship beginning on June 6, with the Mavs hoping to capture the first title of Luka Doncic’s career and the Celtics hoping to add elusive banner No. 18.

The Mavericks have been giant killers all postseason long. To win their first NBA Championship since 2011, they’ll have to take down the biggest one of all in the Celtics.

Boston has been the team to beat all year, with a statistical track record that is right up there with the best teams in NBA history. But there’s pressure too, as the Celtics have come up short already a few times, and another disappointing ending could have major ramifications for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.

My NBA Finals series preview for Mavericks vs. Celtics takes stock of the NBA playoff odds, the major advantages for both teams, as well as the key matchups that could define the series. I follow that up with my favorite NBA Finals prop and my NBA Finals series pick.

Jump ahead here:

Let's dive in!

Series Odds

Boston Celtics


Dallas Mavericks


Dallas Mavericks breakdown (No. 5 seed, 50-32)

The Mavericks' run to the NBA Finals

The Dallas Mavericks aren’t supposed to be here.

There have only been six teams seeded fifth or lower to make the NBA Finals in history, and Dallas also missed the playoffs just last season.

Very rarely do in-season trades for major pieces lead to an NBA Finals berth either, but the Mavericks made a pair for PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford that proved crucial. They beat the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Minnesota Timberwolves to get here, all of whom had higher championship equity for most of this NBA season.

Dallas has an elite defense backed by two of the game's most transcendent scorers, and while they come in as underdogs, they are incredibly dangerous.

Mavericks key advantages

The Luka Doncic pick-and-roll game

The Mavericks are a heliocentric offense. Luka is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of everything the Mavericks do on that side of the ball. The Mavericks' ability to score is all predicated on Doncic beating his man one on one, and when opposing defenses realize that is untenable, he begins beating them two on two in the pick-and-roll.

Doncic is so dangerous because he can score from everywhere on the court, comfortably taking step back threes or 15-foot floaters, as well as making lob passes for dunks or open corner threes. Every team so far in the playoffs has failed to meaningfully solve the puzzle Luka poses in the pick-and-roll.

48 minutes of rim protection

The Mavericks struck gold when they drafted Dereck Lively II. His ability to meet the moment as a rookie and not just survive the playoffs, but thoroughly dominate in his role, has been remarkable.

By pairing him with Gafford, the Mavericks guaranteed 48 minutes of outstanding rim protection and high energy finishing around the basket. Parking their bigs around the rim has been a big part of the Mavericks’ defensive formula through three rounds, and they’ll attempt the same against Boston.

Clutch closers

The Mavericks have the best two closers in this series, and two of the best in the NBA period in Doncic and Kyrie Irving. In any close game, I trust the Mavericks' top players to patiently and methodically generate quality shots every trip down, which is something I remain skeptical of Boston doing on a consistent basis.

Boston Celtics breakdown (No. 1 seed, 64-18)

The Celtics' run to the NBA Finals

Has there ever been a more untested team to make the NBA Finals?

The Boston Celtics played three straight teams missing their best player for at least half of each series, and somehow that doesn’t even cover how badly depleted their opposition was.

Outside of a couple of Game 2 anomalies, they looked fantastic, so it’s difficult to find much fault with their play. By winning easily they also never felt any pressure to rush Kristaps Porzingis back from his calf injury, which certainly improves his chances of being healthy for this series.

But if iron sharpens iron, the Celtics could be running headlong into a knife fight with a dull blade in Game 1.

Celtics advantages

3-point volume

The Celtics had the NBA’s best offense this season, as well as statistically the most effective offense of all time. Unlike most teams that play inside-out, the Celtics truly play outside-in.

They bomb a higher volume of threes than any team that’s come before, and even great defenses have trouble containing them when they get rolling.

While their 3-point-happy offense can sometimes come to a screeching halt, more often than not it provides a steady stream of scoring that tilts the math heavily in their favor.

Defensive versatility

The Celtics have more plausible players to throw against Doncic and Kyrie than any other team in the NBA.

Anthony Edwards gassed out trying to guard Kyrie and Luka in the West Finals, but the Celtics have such a wealth of options that they should be able to stay fresh while also throwing new and confounding looks at the Mavs stars.

While I have great confidence in Luka’s ability to beat his matchup, Irving notably struggled with the length of Jalen Williams in Round 2. If Jaylen Brown takes the challenge against Kyrie, that could limit his production.

Wing depth

The Celtics' defensive versatility is only matched by their firepower on the wing. With Jayson Tatum and Brown, the Celtics provide a matchup nightmare for opposing perimeter defenses. Most teams only have one elite wing defender, and it's questionable if Derrick Jones Jr. has the strength to really contain Tatum or Brown.

If the Mavericks can’t hold up in defense on the wing the Celtics are going to generate gobs of open threes on drive and kicks.

Key Matchups

Porzingis vs. the Dallas bigs

The Dallas defense is predicated on their centers staying near the rim at all times. By having a big at the basket they’ve taken away opposing layups as well as the drive and kick game that in turn leads to the highest quality threes. They’ve largely executed that strategy the entirety of the playoffs, but they’re facing a different challenge against Porzingis.

Dallas played a team already with a stretch five when they matched up against the Thunder. But while Chet Holmgren is a stretch five, he’s not nearly as effective as Porzingis.

Porzingis will gladly take eight or more threes a game if the Dallas bigs don’t contest him beyond the arc, and his lightning quick release means they’ll have to be further from the rim than they’d like to just make a plausible close out.

If the Dallas interior opens up, suddenly their elite defense might look vulnerable.

Luka vs. everyone

The Celtics can and will switch liberally, which takes away the lob action that has been so killer for the Mavericks in their run to the Finals. Boston will try to play Luka one on one as much as possible, but no team has successfully made that formula work for a whole series as he figures out where to poke and prod until eventually the dam breaks.

I believe Luka is going to have more success in isolation than Boston’s defensive bona fides should suggest. They have struggled with strong heliocentric scorers like Jalen Brunson, and their defense may unravel if forced into constant rotation.

Favorite series prop: Luka Doncic Most Points in Series (-190)

Luka’s advantages in isolation are the basis for my favorite player prop bet of the Finals, which is backing Luka to score the most points in the series at -190.

Doncic has been nursing a mysterious knee injury all playoffs long, but it seems to have been steadily improving with time as he broke out against the Minnesota Timberwolves for 32.4 points per game. He’ll also have had more than a week to rest and rehab with the series against Minnesota ending in five.

Luka is the second-best playoff scorer of all time behind Michael Jordan, and the entire Dallas offense centers around him being able to score and force help against any defense. The Celtics have so many guys who could compete to be the team’s leading scorer on any given night, and Irving isn’t consistent enough against size to win it.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Boston Celtics series pick and prediction

The season-long numbers will tell you the Celtics should win. The head-to-head matchups suggest the Celtics should win. The Celtics’ point differential in the playoffs suggests they should win.

But none of that matters now. It’s inarguable to me that the Mavericks have been the better team in the playoffs, executing at the highest of levels against legitimately elite competition.

The Celtics have played well, but even though they ultimately swept Indiana, they showed cracks in their team defense (particularly in transition) that the Mavericks will exploit. Just like the Timberwolves, the Celtics are not built to put two on the ball, but Luka has forced that coverage eventually out of everyone. The Celtics’ defense is elite if they can avoid it, but something much less than that if Luka gets his way.

I also worry that the Celtics' biggest matchup advantage relies on the health of Porzingis. He will have not played in more than five weeks by the start of the Finals, and I am concerned about him ramping up during a series where every game counts. If he plays at an All-Star level right from tip off, I think Boston should win, but I’m skeptical.

I also don’t think homecourt will matter much in this series. The Celtics will be weakest in Game 1, while Porzingis is getting back up to speed and the Mavericks come in battle tested. Boston has also been just about a .500 playoff team at home since 2020 (21-20 overall) and the Mavs are road killers.

With real plus money value available on Dallas, I’m backing the Mavericks to win their first title since 2011 at +180.

Series Pick: Dallas Mavericks to win (+180)

Odds displayed within this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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