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Celtics Take 2-0 Finals Lead: Game 1 and 2 Recap

by Nico Oliva

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) loses the ball as Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday (4) and forward Jayson Tatum (0) defend during the first half in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Boston. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

GAME 1

The stage was set for Game 1. TD Garden was a sea of Green and White, and louder than ever. ESPN's crew of Mike Breen, JJ Reddick and Doris Burke were ready to commentate the game on basketball's biggest stage. Plus a Jimmy Butler Bad Boys commercial, what more could you ask for? 


Congrats to Doris Burke

Before we go into the game, I'm going to give a well-deserved shoutout to Doris Burke, who became the first woman ever to commentate an NBA Finals game. Congratulations to Doris on this incredible feat in her career. 


The Return of Boston's X-Factor Set The Tone

Along with the routine anticipation for the 1st game of an NBA finals series, a new headline was published, and that was “The Return of Kristaps Porzingis.” Kristaps Porzingis was Boston's marquee acquisition this past offseason. He's a player they thought could help them in moments like the NBA Finals. Porzingis’ length, shot blocking ability, and shot-making ability were the extra elements Boston needed to outmatch their opponents seemingly.


Unfortunately for the C’s, Porzingis has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, and his recent calf injury that he suffered against the Miami Heat in Round 1, has held him out of the Celtics path to getting a championship up to this point. But Porznigs did return in this game, and he did so with a bang.


Porzingis came in off the bench midway through the first quarter, and it was then that both teams were going blow for blow, but that was until Porzingis would go on to score 11 points in 6 minutes, and have 3 blocked shots after just half a quarter of play. His efforts would help Boston to be up 37-20, the largest point differential after a first quarter in Finals history.


The 2nd Quarter would be much like the first, but with more contributions from Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, who would cash in, in the points department, but the star studded duo's impact was seen in their effort defensively keeping Luka Doncic, and Kyrie Irving in check.

Tatum said before the series “You've got to have guys willing to do the other things, to sacrifice, to give their team a chance.”

Tatums 11 rebounds on the night, and relentless defensive effort on Kyrie, truly overshadowed his 16 points, and shows that the Celtics leader has the right mentality at the right time. 


The Mavericks 2nd Half Adjustments Weren’t Enough

After being down by 21 at the end of the first half, Dallas would roar back to within 8, 72-64, to make this game within reach midway through the 3rd quarter. The Mavericks were not giving shooters as much breathing room on their shots, and they also started crashing the boards, taking away a lot of the Celtics second chance opportunities that they were cashing in off of in the first half. Along with this improved defense,  offensively, Luka and Kyrie started to flow and go into their bags.


While it's great and all that this superstar duo can take control of a game when they get hot, their lack of consistency has many wondering whether or not Dallas is too reliant on their two main men. One thing is for sure, Boston has enough firepower on their roster, to match up with anyone in the league let alone Dallas, who doesn't seem to have a consistent 3rd and 4th option to help Kyrie and Luka.


After Boston called timeout when their previous 29-point lead was brought to single digits 72-64, they reasserted themselves as the aggressors in this game, moving the ball to get clean looks, and not giving the visitors any daylight.


Jaylen Brown's message to the C’s when the Mavs started cutting into the lead midway through the 3rd was, “This game is starting now, it's close, now let's go respond.”

The Celtics did just that, not taking their foot off the gas pedal, holding Dallas to just 89 points when it was all set and done, winning 107-89. 


GAME 2

Game 2, was an opportunity for Dallas to bounce back, and for Boston to put themselves two wins closer to a championship. Let's dive into what this game had in store.


Different Start For Dallas; But the Same Finish

After being on the wrong side of history thanks to their dismal 1st quarter performance in Game 1, Dallas did their best to limit Boston's open looks, and to mess up their spacing much like they did in the 2nd half of the last game. The start for Dallas in Game 2, was very different from Game 1, where Dallas was down by 20 plus, but Dallas did a nice job keeping this game competitive throughout the first half.


Kyrie, who didn’t have the best game all around in Game 1 with 12 points, started Game 2 with a couple nice drives, and a crowd silencing jumper. This looked like we were going to see Kyrie of old. But, unfortunately for the Mavs, this wasn’t the case.


Jrue Holiday, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did a great job not letting Kyrie be comfortable, and he wouldn’t be able to respond to this great defense, along with the vulgar chants from the Boston crowd, as he would finish with just 16 points on the night.


But Luka Doncic really picked up the slack with 23 points in the first half which put the score at 54-51, with Boston on top going into halftime. Doncic was making shots, and spreading the ball around efficiently. Number 77 was doing everything he could to carry his team on his back, but Dallas really shot themselves in the foot, missing 16 of their 24 free throw attempts. Free throws are an area where the Mavericks have been the worst in the entire league throughout these playoffs, but against Boston they can’t afford to let free points go to waste.


Going into the second half, Dallas was looking to keep this game within reach, and they did, sort of. The Mavs deficit would go from 10-15 points, to 6-8, from time to time but this game really didn’t feel as close as it was. The Mavs started to let Boston play Boston's game, which was moving the ball fluidly and getting open looks to their best shooters. A real fork in Dallas’ confidence, was when Payton Pritchard checked in for the final 3 seconds of the 3rd quarter, and of course, he went and hit a buzzer-beating three pointer from just above the logo. That shot really epitomizes how deep Boston is, in terms of having guys that can come in at any time and knock down shots.


The supporting cast off Dallas led by PJ Washington’s 17 points, and Daniel Gaffords 13, was better than Game 1 in their overall performance. They were more energized defensively, and trying their best to make winning basketball plays on both ends of the court.


While the Mavs did see an improvement from their bench, and overall as a team, they were not enough as their lack of contribution from Kyrie, and barrage of free throw misses, really outweighed their improvements as they would lose this game 105-98. This game was truly a missed opportunity for Dallas to steal one on the road, with Boston being the best 3 point shooting team in the league this year, going 10/39 on 3’s in Game 2, and their best players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combing for only 39 points, it's a game that Dallas will either look back at with regret later on in the series, or with gratitude, depending on how they use this game to get better, after all it is the first to four. 


Holiday Leads The Way For Boston 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are undoubtedly the face of the Celtics franchise, but as I mentioned earlier, they combined for only 39 in game 2. But at the same time, they didn’t need to make that big of an impact scoring, and that was thanks to Jrue Holiday. Holiday throughout his tenures in New Orleans, and Milwaukee, has been known for being a lockdown defender, and in Game 2 he filled this role for his team, along with the role of leading his team in scoring with 28 on the night.


Jrue showed off why his addition to this Celtics squad this past offseason was so vital to their success, yeah he would score 26 points and have 11 rebounds, but beyond his surprise performance, his veteran leadership is truly more impactful. At times when Dallas started to get momentum, Jrue made a great assist, or great steal, that would help his team regain confidence. That's the type of leadership Boston was missing last year when they lost to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, and it's a big contributor to their perseverance through adversity in these tough playoff battles.


Overall Boston didn’t play their best game, but thanks to contributions from guys like Jrue, and Derrick White, who hit timely 3-point shots in the 4th quarter, the C’s showed why they’ve so dominant.

Even Luka Doncic said, “They have a lot of great players, basically anyone can go off, that’s what makes them the best team in the league.”

That truly sums up Boston's identity, and for Dallas, they're going to have its hands full, trying to stop this Celtics team with multiple players who can dominate a ball game on any given night. 


Game 3 Preview

Games 1 and 2 are done, and the Celtics are in command of this series leading 2-0. It's going to be an uphill battle for Dallas to try to get back in this thing, and they're going to need to protect home court back home in the Lone Star State. Kyrie is going to be in front of a crowd that will be cheering him on, instead of booing him, and the Mavs team as a whole is going to get a much-needed homecoming. Home or on the road, it will be up to Dallas, to clean up the small things like making free throws, that will pay big dividends going forward. As for Boston, they’ll look to keep their momentum going, and continue their positive track to crossing the finish line that is their 18th championship.


Game 3 is Wednesday at 8:30 PM, on ABC.

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