In the NBA Finals, the Celtics and Mavs face different challenges than they’ve won

Each NBA playoff series is its own unique event, with no real point of continuity between the end of one and the beginning of another.

For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the defending champion Denver Nuggets, but that doesn’t automatically make them kings of the hill; A series against the Dallas Mavericks in the next round presented an entirely different set of challenges, and the Timberwolves’ roster was less than capable of handling it. Similarly, the Indiana Pacers’ valiant fight against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals says nothing about what will happen to Boston in the series against Dallas; The prospect of hiring Rick Carlisle, Indiana and Dallas can’t be ruled out.

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It’s an important piece of knowledge to hold onto in the coming days as we explore every possible angle in our extended break before the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks begin on June 6. On Thursday in Minnesota, Boston won 12 of 14 by double-digit scoring.

Using those games as a projection point for what might happen in the NBA Finals is a fatal flaw: The matchup between these two teams will be completely different than what they’ve gone through before. That way, it’s good that Dallas and Boston have a few days off to recalibrate. The formula for winning the next round will be completely different.

Take the Celtics, for example, who just finished a series against one of the most intense teams in basketball and now have to match up with a very different team on both ends. The Pacers’ defensive approach, in particular, is nearly 180 degrees from Dallas’. The Pacers have given up the fewest 3-point attempts in the league this season and have been willing to allow drives to the rim until they stop the 3-point streak.

While they did this part poorly against the Celtics — Boston launched 43 triples per game in the conference finals, matching its season total — it’s a starkly different approach from what Dallas has done in its three playoff runs. With rim protectors Derek Lively II and Daniel Gafford trying to protect the basket at all costs, the Mavs held opponents to just 50.2 percent shooting over 2 seconds in the playoffs entering Game 5 against Minnesota.

The Mavs didn’t give up a huge amount of 3s overall, but there was one particular type they were willing to concede — take 3-pointers from opposing centers. The Clippers and Wolves lacked the starting personnel to hurt them, but Dallas’ Chad Holmgren and Jaylin Williams led the Thunder (42 attempts in six games), while Minnesota backup Nas Reed hit 25 3-point attempts. 132 minutes in the conference finals.

Needless to say, this is a very questionable strategy against the Celtics if Kristaps Porziņģis stays healthy (he’s expected to return for the NBA Finals). Porsches is shooting 37.5 percent from 3 over six attempts per game this season, and many of his attempts have been several feet beyond the 3-point line. For that matter, Boston big man Al Horford received 41.9 percent.

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Dallas isn’t the only team facing this problem. Keeping rim protectors close to the rim has been a vexing question for Boston opponents, which has seen many original but unsuccessful solutions. For example, Golden State put Draymond Green on Jaylen Brown, kept Green in the paint and dared Brown to shoot 3s in a March game. Brown hit five 3s in the first seven minutes and was on his way to breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record before the Warriors retaliated.

I was at that game, and my column that weekend further explores the unique dilemmas presented by Boston’s great shooting at each level. Short version: Only teams like Indiana who try to live off basket attacks by taking 3s have a chance against the Celtics. Sure, the Pacers gave up points, but they beat Boston twice in the regular season and had a 3-pointer in Game 1 before fate intervened.

Dallas, by contrast, was a mediocre team in blocking opposing 3s, and played that way again in the playoffs. The big puzzle for the Mavs is figuring out how to dismantle a defensive strategy that was optimized for playing the Clippers, Thunder and Wolves and adapt it to play a very different Boston team. Recent events have not been good on that front; When the Mavs marched into Boston with all their new trade pieces in March, they lost 138-110, Boston shooting 21 of 43 with 3 seconds left.

The Celtics, however, will have to make some adjustments of their own. While Indiana Rock runs the ball down their throats at every possible opportunity, Dallas plays a much slower and more sun-centered style. Yes, the Mavs play opportunistically, but compared to playing the Pacers, it’s like switching from a techno rave to Gregorian chants.

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Additionally, the player Dallas controls may be the best offensive player in the league, and he’s working against a defense that essentially has one weakness — not really being able to switch in five positions. We saw how that worked out for Minnesota, the league’s top-ranked defensive team. Can the Celtics really keep up in drop coverage against Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving for 40-plus minutes? Or should they be uncomfortable?

While the Celtics have a bigger roster (for example, they could put Porsches in Derrick Jones Jr. to switch against Dallas’ pick-and-roll game with Lively and Gaffort) and Jrue Holiday and Derrick White, Doncic is two All-Defensive guards. Looked and found every coverage.

Obviously, there’s more to unlock here — Porziņģis and Irving revenge series! Luca’s First NBA Finals! Jayson Tatum Redemption Shot! Reflections of the Grant Williams Era! We’ll have plenty of time to get everything in, but it looks like a relief for these teams interpolation Before this final round. Each will require a complete tactical overhaul.


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(Photo of Luka Dončić and Al Horford: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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