Erica Denhoff/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

BOSTON — Most observers viewed the Boston Celtics’ 2024 season, especially after their hot start to the campaign and on the heels of being on the brink of championship glory in recent years, as an exercise in avoiding boredom until reaching the NBA Finals. Obviously, challenges and complications would befall the Green and White before taking their supposed rightful place on the NBA’s biggest stage, assuming they made it that far.

They have, and now instead of boredom, the Celtics need to avoid a case of revenge — and a whole lot of Slovenian magic — to raise championship No. 18 to the rafters.

The 77th edition of the NBA Finals starts of Thursday, with the most storied franchise in the league, the Boston Celtics, looking to add to their championship haul at the expense of the Dallas Mavericks, who come into the NBA Finals with an improved defense and, according to former NBA head coach and basketball television analyst Stan Van Gundy, the greatest-scoring backcourt in the history of the league. If anything, Boston’s own dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, might come into this series a little under-appreciated, as the pair will now compete in a second Finals on the heels of the team making the conference finals for the sixth time in eight years.

Despite slip-ups in Game 2’s at home against the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers in the first two rounds, Boston has not been extended past five games in any of their three series on the way to the Finals, and showed resilience during their sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the conference finals as it had to come back from fourth-quarter deficits in three of the four contests. Furthermore, center Kristaps Porzingis is expected to play in Game 1 after missing the entire second-round series and conference finals with a calf strain suffered in the first round.

Porzingis, a former member of the Dallas Mavericks, came over to Boston in a trade, and it was a couple of deadline deals that helped the Mavericks reach their full potential this season. At the trade deadline, general manager Nico Harrison acquired forward P.J. Washington from Charlotte and center Daniel Gafford from Washington in separate deals, turning Dallas’ frontcourt, which includes 2023 lottery pick Dereck Lively II, into a formidable force to team with Doncic and Irving.

Speaking of forces, Doncic has somehow taken his MVP-level form and improved on it, especially as he went off for 24 first-half points in the clinching Game 5 in Minneapolis to eliminate the Timberwolves to advance to the Finals. All this, and Doncic has been playing with a sore knee and ankle throughout the postseason.

Of course, the juiciest storyline comes with the return of Irving to Beantown, where he spent two ill-fated seasons on the Celtics. In year one, he missed the postseason due to injury and saw a rookie Tatum and second-year Brown lead Boston to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2018-2019, the Celtics slumped to a fourth-place finish in the East and, after defeating Indiana in the first round, they lost 4-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks, a series in which Boston won the first game in Milwaukee before losing four straight. After defeat in Game 4 of that series, Irving responded to a question about whether he had been in a prolonged shooting slump as the one he had during the series by saying, “”Yeah, who cares? Who cares?”… I’m trying to do it all. So, for me, the 22 shots, you know, I should’ve shot 30. I’m that great of a shooter.” A.K.A. the type of answer that will lead an entire fan base to mercilessly boo upon returning to the city and printing endless “Kyrie Sucks” shirts that are top sellers on street vendors outside of the arena.

PREDICTION: The momentum that the Mavericks have built in taking out the West’s No. 1 seed in Oklahoma City and No. 3 Minnesota, the team who eliminated the defending-champion Nuggets, has many thinking Dallas has what it takes to pull off the upset. At first, I agreed. But now, I think the Jays to complete the job, and their experience losing the 2022 NBA Finals to Golden State will prove valuable in learning what not to do in the clutch.

Celtics in seven games.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s pregame, with photos taken by ALOST staff photographer Erica Denhoff. After clicking on a photo to enlarge the picture, press the left and right arrow buttons on either side of the caption to scroll through the rest of the pictures that appear on the first page, Also, click on the numbers and/or arrow appearing immediately below the picture grid to load the next set of photos. There are 22 pictures in total.

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Tags : Boston CelticsDallas MavericksNational Basketball AssociationNBANBA Finals

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