Celtics Out-Math Mavericks in Game 1 to Start NBA Finals with Dominant Win

Celtics Out-Math Mavericks in Game 1 to Start NBA Finals with Dominant Win article feature image
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(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) Pictured: Kristaps Porzingis (left) and Jayson Tatum (right).

Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals was a Boston Celtics avalanche.

The Garden was going crazy to start the game and Boston blew the doors off to open a huge lead early. The Celtics hit a dizzying array of shots, and Kristaps Porziņģis finally returned from injury with a monster first quarter, scoring 11 points and adding a couple huge blocks.

When the quarter ended, the Celtics were up 37-20, the largest first-quarter margin in Finals history. With four minutes until halftime, it was 58-29. Boston had doubled Dallas up, and the game was all but over.

The Mavs did go on a 35-14 run, mostly in the third quarter, and cut the gap to eight, but Boston retook control and outscored Dallas by 10 the rest of the way, and the final score of 107-89 was nowhere near indicative of the Boston beatdown this performance was.

The first-half barrage was a masterclass of Celtics basketball. For the most part, Boston did everything it wanted in Game 1, and Dallas did almost nothing of the sort.

Boston's stars were electric.

Porziņģis had 18 at the half, a huge X-factor that started the night +6000 for Finals MVP and ended at +550. He played 13 first-half minutes despite coming off the bench — a role you wonder might stick, considering how Boston dominated the bench minutes — and looked healthy and ready to go.

Jayson Tatum had six turnovers but put up a professional 16/11/5 line. He got a ton of attention from Dallas and mostly handled the extra attention, repeatedly setting teammates up for clean looks and all those early 3s. Jaylen Brown was outstanding defensively with three steals and three blocks and led the team in scoring with 22.

As good as the stars were, it was a team effort from Boston. Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, and Al Horford all had memorable plays. Sam Hauser single-handedly outscored the entire Dallas bench during the competitive portion of the game. Boston became the first team in Finals history to have seven players hit multiple 3s.

While Boston played like an elite team, Dallas was about one individual.

Luka Dončić was terrific, at least as a scorer. He led all players with 30 points and added 10 rebounds, and he was about the only offense Dallas had going. But it was a one-man offense.

Dončić finished the night with a single, solitary assist. It's the lowest total in his playoff career, and two lower than his season low all year.

But it wasn't just Dončić.

The entire Mavericks team finished with just nine assists. Dallas had only one game below a 45.5% assist rate all season entering the night. Only 25.7% of Mavs' field goals were assisted in Game 1.

Boston played electric defense, with nine blocks and six steals. The Celtics held Dallas to 23-of-47 in the paint, below 50%, and an ugly 7-of-23 in the non-restricted paint (30.4%). Boston's perimeter defenders were terrific, and its paint protection was back with Porziņģis' return.

Even the buckets Dallas got felt like a grind. Dončić will always get his, and Boston seemed more than content to let him, but the rest of the Mavs struggled to get anything going.

Kyrie Irving was miserable. He scored just 12 points on 6-of-19 shooting, though he did lead Dallas in assists — with two.

Dereck Lively II, the third-best Dallas player on this run, had just two points and five fouls in 18 minutes, a complete non-factor. Derrick Jones Jr. opened Dallas' scoring with a 3, then scored two more the rest of the way. Maxi Kleber was in the game early at center and made no real impact.

Everything Dallas had done the last six weeks to get here looked out the window.

Offensively, the Mavs had no rhythm and looked nothing like the offense that had dominated an historically elite Timberwolves defense.

Remember all those lobs and corner 3s? Boston's game plan was to take away lobs and corner 3s, and it worked like a charm. Dallas had one improvised lob dunk all night, and it also made a single corner trey in garbage time, going just 1-of-3 for the game, compared to Boston's 6-of-14 from the corners.

And that shows just how scrambled Dallas was defensively, too.

The Mavs got to the Finals with outstanding defense, improved by midseason trades and a late-season push, but that defense was nowhere to be found in Game 1.

Play after play, Dallas packed the paint defensively and tried to protect the rim — the formula that worked so well the last couple rounds — and play after play, five white jerseys stood outside the 3-point arc and bombed 3s.

Boston went 16-for-42 on 3s, but that was actually slightly below its season average at 38%.

Dallas's problem in Game 1 wasn't shot variance — it was 3-point volume.

Boston took 42 treys to just 27 for Dallas, and that margin was 27-13 at the half. It was also both quantity and quality. The Celtics took 14 corner 3s to just three for Dallas, and Boston stepped into so many open rhythm jumpers.

Non-Dončić Mavs shot just 3-of-15 on 3s. The 20% is a problem, but again, the 15 is the bigger problem. Dallas ranked second in the NBA in 3s this season behind only Boston. Luka Dončić needs his teammates to get 3s.

Instead, Boston ran Dallas off the arc and pushed the Mavs into the paint, just like it did against Indiana, and again, it worked like a charm. Boston's excellent 2-point defense was back with the return of Porziņģis, and on the other end, all that Boston shooting turned the vaunted Mavs' rim protection into Swiss cheese. The Celtics went 13-of-17 on 2s in the first half, a whopping 76%.

When Boston gets up 15 extra 3s as better looks from better shooters and dominates on 2-point percentage, that math ain't mathin' for Dallas. That's lights out for the Mavs if Dallas can't solve that math problem.

It's just one game, of course.

Dallas will make adjustments, you'd hope — Jason Kidd got caught with his pants down in this one — and some of the shot variance should even out. Irving will likely play better, and Dallas' role players certainly can't do much less.

The hope for Mavs fans is a repeat of Game 2 malaise that's seen Boston lose twice at home already in Game 2s these playoffs. Boston is now 11-19 ATS in the playoffs since 2020 after winning by more than 10 points.

The Celtics tend to get high off their own supply and coast — like they did in the third quarter in Game 1, nearly giving the entire lead back — and Dončić and Irving need to be ready to pounce on that complacency and take advantage early.

But Dallas will need more than just a complacent Boston if Game 1 was any indication.

The Mavs have a serious math problem on both 2s and 3s, and they're going to have to find some answers in a hurry to have any chance in this series.

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Jul 11, 2024 UTC