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The Celtics Level Of Dominance In Game 1 Of The NBA Finals Was Both Very Real And Very Spectacular

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but my adrenaline is still at an all time high right now. My raging Porzingis has lasted much longer than 4 hours, and I have no intention of calling my doctor. Instead, I've been mainlining Celts Kool Aid ever since the clock hit 0.0 and the final buzzer sounded, signifying the Celtics early 1-0 lead in these Finals.

Given how things looked on both ends of the floor, I can absolutely understand anyone who finds themselves getting a little carried away today. I understand the desire to talk shit, be confident, all that shit. It's hard not to when you come off a win like that and are one step closer to an NBA title. You see the stat that tells you teams who won Game 1 went on to win the Finals 70% of the time and you can allow yourself to go to dangerous places.

But as I always say, perspective is important. You know who ended up being in that 30%? The 2022 Boston Celtics. 2 years ago, we were in this exact same place, up 1-0 against the Warriors. That time, they stole the game on the road, which led to all of us thinking dangerous thoughts. We all know how that ended up (sigh), which is why I would make sure you enjoy this win, but also stay the course. That's not just me saying it, it's Jayson Tatum saying it as well

Honestly, the Celts looked like a team with Finals experience last night. A group that played as though they understood the moment, weren't overcome by the weight of the situation or the bright lights, and to me that's the difference between the 2022 team and the 2024 team so far. Hearing them all talk after the game pretty much confirmed it. That's the value of going through those wars and getting those playoff scars. That experience played a role in what we saw last night, and the hope is that it continues the rest of the series.

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So as long as we acknowledge there is more to do and we continue to respect the Basketball Gods, I also think it's OK to feel pretty damn good after watching that complete ass kicking. Part of this journey to the ultimate is enjoying every stop, and a blowout Game 1 win in the NBA Finals is a hell of a way to start. 

Let's begin.

The Good

- Normally this spot is reserved for a player who sets himself apart from the rest and earns the top spot in the blog. Today, I will be going a different direction, instead starting us off with what in my opinion wasn't just the biggest factor of this win, but will be one of if not the biggest factors to the Celtics championship hopes.

Defense.

They say defense wins championships, and at this point it's getting harder and harder to disagree. I would like to share something with you that very well may get you excited. There may need to be a little bit of a buffer before you stand up if you happen to be at work, I just want to warn you now.

This season (including playoffs) the Boston Celtics have held a team to under 100 points a total of 23 times. 

They are 23-0.

In these playoffs alone, look at what this defense is doing

Opponents are averaging just 100.5 points against the Celtics this postseason while shooting just 46/33%. The Celts are doing a great job without fouling, averaging only 12.9 FTA a game for their opponent as well. We were told that this was only because the Celtics were playing an easy road in the Eastern Conference playoffs, ignoring the fact that they've been doing this shit all season, to everyone.

Just look at how they handled the greatest scoring backcourt in NBA history. Completely took Luka/Kyrie out of this game for the most part offensively, with Al Horford destroying his matchup on Luka

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This is a much better situation for Al compared to the quicker guards he was getting switched on to in earlier rounds, because Luka isn't quick, he's just strong as a bull. But if you hold your own and then you stay down on his fakes, you can give him issues. It's a matchup that a healthy and rested Al Horford can handle, which is a big, big deal.

When it came time to get separation, how did it start? On the defensive end. KP's rim protection. Jaylen's defense

the foundation of everything the Celtics do will ALWAYS be their defense. When things went cold offensively and got a little stagnant which allowed the Mavs to come back, it was how the Celts locked in defensively and got out in transition that kept DAL from completing the comeback. Once you get the energy from loud defensive plays, suddenly your shots start dropping, the crowd gets into it, and momentum shifts. It's not complicated, you just have to be willing to commit fully to it. There is no half ass defending at this level, not when a championship is on the line. 

What makes the Celtics different from any team the Mavs have faced this playoff run is the fact that there is no weak link. We as Celts fans know this because we watch every game, but it was clear the Mavs weren't ready. There's nobody you can pick on, there's nobody who struggles in space, there's nobody that's a mismatch. That's the beauty of Brad Stevens' brain

- Of course, we can now get to the return of our 7'2 human basketball cheat code. The ultimate matchup nightmare and a player that it sure as shit doesn't look like the Mavs have any idea how to solve

I still can't believe this is how healthy and good KP looked. Talk about a rope-a-dope. Easily the biggest X factor in this series, even if you're like me and are overly positive about this team, even I wasn't expecting THAT. No rust, no hesitation, just dominance. That was the same KP I watched all season long and it changes everything about this series moving forward. The Celts were already going to be a matchup nightmare for the Mavs even without Porzingis, but what do you do if the 7'2 unicorn is ready to roll? Remember, he's only going to get better from here on out once he continues to get into game shape.

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The problem we saw with the Mavs/KP is the same problem we saw every team have against him. There's no winning that matchup. If you don't switch, you're dead. If you do switch, well you're also dead, only this time KP is simply going to shoot over you. You know who knew that way back in June 2023? Brad Stevens

The best part is that's only one end of the floor. What makes KP so devastating is he's also giving you ELITE rim protection. Having him in the paint changes everything about how this team defends, and even on shots he doesn't block, he's still making an impact just by being around the rim. Nobody wants to fuck with that length, and taking away the paint/rim from the Mavs offense is huge considering they aren't exactly the best shooting team in the world.

It was always so funny to me how everyone kept overlooking KP not being in the lineup when talking about injuries in the playoffs, as if he isn't a complete force on both ends. You want to know why the Celts look so good this year? Kristaps Porzingis. This game was a reminder of the type of difference maker he is, and what it does for the ceiling of this team when he's on the floor. There's simply no way to guard them.

And best of all? KP only played 20 minutes. Now he gets a few days off to recover and get treatment ahead of Game 2, and now that we know what KP looks like and how he's moving, it's hard to not get very, very excited. 

- This entire Jaylen Brown season has been a religious experience to watch. It's been better than anything we've ever seen before from Jaylen, on both ends of the floor. Defensively, it's easily his best on and off ball season, he's taking on the best matchup every night, he's playing focused and with energy/force, and last night was a great example of that.

Offensively, his processing is 10000000000000000x better. We're seeing Jaylen get better at reading defenses on the fly, understanding where the rotations are happening and where the ball needs to go, while also displaying an offensive arsenal that no Mav can really guard

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What we're seeing is what the early NBA prime of Jaylen Brown looks like. This is why you never traded him, this is why you live through the mistakes and the growing pains. This version right here. From a mentality standpoint, Jaylen is as locked in as we've ever seen. His leadership is WAY up, and his play has followed suit. To me, that's the biggest difference in the 2024 run. The Jays are ready for the moment and you can see it every time they step onto the floor. 

One thing that is clear is that the Mavs perimeter defenders are going to have a VERY tough time keeping Jaylen out of the paint. As we know, when you let Jaylen get into the paint, it's over.

This is a common problem for pretty much every team that plays the Celts. To be effective, you need elite perimeter defenders. If you don't have that, the Celts are going to get whatever shot they want on every single possession. Sometimes that's a shot in the paint, most times it's a drive and kick to an open 3PA which isn't going to work out well for you. Teams that can't stop the wings/point of attack stand no chance, that's just the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately for DAL, this is a matchup problem and a roster problem, and I'm not sure they have a solve

- Tremendous night for the starting backcourt as well. Both Derrick White and Jrue Holiday had in my opinion, perfect games. When this duo on one end is giving you 27 points on 9-20 (5-13) shooting with 10 AST and only 2 TOs, that's usually enough to win.

But when they are also giving you elite defense? 

That's when the Celtics become overwhelming. I thought each guy had a pretty big moment offensively that might be overlooked, but shouldn't. For Derrick, it was the back to back 3PM to blow this game open in the 1st quarter. When he shoots without hesitation, it changes everything. 

For Jrue, it was this play right here. Arguably one of the biggest buckets of the game if you ask me

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At this point, the game was sort of in the balance. The Celts needed to find a way to end that possession with points, and I loved Jrue's approach the whole way. He was patient, he had realized that the last few trips had been poor shot quality possessions, so he did what he does best and used his strength to bully his way to the rim, take a breath, and then finish.

That's the type of calm, cool, and collected play in a big moment in the 4th quarter of the NBA Finals that Brad Stevens traded for. Jrue's been sensational ever since like Game 3 of the MIA series, and his play last night should not be overlooked. 

Not to mention, he also gave us an all time quote after the game

He's not lying. Sam Hauser had both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in hell on multiple possessions. 

- Speaking of Hauser, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but is he back? He feels like he might be back. You knew once he saw just one 3PM drop that it would open the floodgates, and considering it does not appear that he's going to be a defensive liability in this series, I definitely think there's a role for him. The spacing he's going to provide is valuable enough, but now we get to add plus defense to the equation? Hell yes.

- Big night for those of us who observe the religion that is Mazzulla Ball. The haters and losers of which there are still many are furious. Not only has Joe been coaching his dick off this entire playoffs, we're seeing his offensively philosophy excel at the highest level. You see, as much as you want to, you can't run from the math. Joe knows that, I know that, and you should know that.

If the Celts are going to be +9 in 3PM, the Mavs offense is not going to be able to keep up. You can trade point paints for 3s all you want, but eventually, the math is going to bite you in the ass. Over 50% of the Celts FGA were 3PA, they shot their normal volume/percentage, and they blew another team out. This now makes them 35-4 when they shoot at least 50% of their shots from behind the arc.

35-4.

Mazzulla Ball. Embrace it or die.

- While I would prefer a life where the Celts built a 29 point lead and then maintained that 29 point lead, I do like the fact that they were punched in the mouth and forced to respond. When the Mavs went on that giant run and Luka was mean mugging everyone, it was a turning point. The Celts could have either folded and had the worst collapse in NBA Finals history, or they could have punched back and shown real growth.

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They responded with a 14-0 run and that was that.

To me, that was another sign of this team's growth. There was no panic. There was no feeling sorry for themselves, there was only execution. You could feel the nerves of the Garden as the lead started to shrink, but that's NBA basketball. Teams will go on runs. How you respond to those runs is what matters most, and the Celts response was A+.

- Many will tell you today that Jayson Tatum played like shit. I would disagree. I wouldn't say it was the best I've ever seen him play, but he certainly wasn't bad. His shot struggled (6-16) and there were some TO issues at times, but everywhere else? Tatum did more than enough.

You have to understand, the Mavs are completely selling out to stop Tatum/limit his looks. Just look at the type of defense Tatum saw all night

That my friends, is real gravity. 

Unfortunately for the Mavs, Tatum is such an improved passer and has gotten so much better at reading defenses, this type of strategy is not going to work. Doubling Tatum is asking for the others to bury you, which they did. If you don't, Tatum will bury you.

We saw Tatum find guys like Jrue in the dunker spot on plays like this, we saw him kick it to the corner, and I would argue he maybe overpassed a little bit. I think Game 2 we see him go strong to the rim on some of these drives, and actually get to the FT line.

The beauty is Tatum has seen all these defenses before. He's dealt with the Heat black magic, the Warriors suffocating defense in the 2022 Finals, so this Mavs defense is nothing for him. 

- Tremendous job taking away the corner 3s and lobs for the Mavs. That's what they were feasting on in the early rounds, and I don't think they had more than 1 of each in this game. 

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The Bad

- While there certainly isn't much to pick on in a game like this, the beauty is that the Celts can play even better. The TO issue can always be cleaned up, Payton Pritchard went 0-7 (0-5), and the team missed 6 FTA. If we were to rank this on a scale of 1-10, this was probably like an 8.23/10 performance. Think about that for a second. People will say "well the Mavs will play better"……well so will the Celtics. This was not their ceiling I'm afraid.

- One thing the Celts are going to have to adjust to is how the Mavs were guarding Derrick White. You saw Kyrie get right into his body pretty much every time. As a result, it forced Derrick to turn his back and sort of operate offensively that way. What that does is it tries to prevent Derrick from getting downhill. It may be as simple as just sending a quick screen his way so he can get some separation, but it felt like whenever that happened the Celts were a little slow in initiating a set. In Game 2, I would like them not to wait.

- The first 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter were some of the most disgusting offense I think we've seen all year. No movement, a lot of settling for jumpers, poor shot quality, just all things you would like to see the Celts avoid in playoff games. I'm not sure it was a case of them taking their foot off the gas and getting complacent, they were just playing stupid basketball. A Joe timeout seemed to snap them out of it, but that was definitely a playing with fire moment. I'm all for taking 3s, but it's the quality of 3s that matter. In those first 6 minutes, things were pretty gross

Meanwhile on the other end, the Celts couldn't stop giving up paint points. That's the recipe for a 21 point swing.

- Horrendous close to the 2nd quarter. No other way to say it. Game 1 was a perfect example of why it's so important to close quarters strong. If you don't, that shit can bleed into the next quarter, and the next thing you know your opponent has life. The final 1:42 of the 2nd quarter we saw the Mavs close on a 7-0 run, which bled into a quick 10-5 start in the 3rd. 

When you get to this level, the margins matter. 2 minutes here, 2 minutes there, that can be the deciding factor. You simply have to play the full 48 and close quarters strong. It's non-negotiable as far as I'm concerned.

The Ugly

- Nope. You know the rules. Once we hit 5 in a row we skip this section, and currently, the Celts are on an 8 game winning streak.

How rare is that in the playoffs? Oh I dunno, it's only never happened for any Celtics playoff team ever in the history of their franchise. Not bad!

Now, we enjoy the break and try and remain calm until Game 2. The Celts punched first, but it's not only about that. You have to keep punching. The Mavs are comfortable in this spot, they've dropped Game 1 in 2 of their previous 3 rounds and then came back and won Game 2. The Celts as we know have a history of winning Game 1 and dropping Game 2. I need them to come out on Sunday like they are down 0-1, and then put all the pressure in the world on the Mavs for Game 3. 

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One game at a time. Just keep telling yourself that.

13 down, 3 to go.