NBA Finals

Mission clear for favored Celtics against upset-conscious Mavs 


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Mission clear for favored Celtics against upset-conscious Mavs 

SUPERSTARS. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum drives the ball against Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

After a relatively easy road to the NBA Finals, the Celtics brace for a confident Mavs team under far less pressure and uniquely equipped to ruin their title aspirations

A Celtics team desperate for championship glory face Luka Doncic and a Dallas Mavericks squad eager to play spoiler in an intriguing NBA Finals matchup that tips off in Boston Thursday, June 6 (Friday, June 7, Manila time).

Led by superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the sharpshooting Celtics have had a relatively easy road to the finals.

Coming out of the weaker Eastern Conference as the top seed, they breezed past the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat, dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers, and swept the Indiana Pacers, who were without point guard Tyrese Haliburton for the final two games.

The Celtics have won 12 of their 14 playoff games and gone undefeated on the road, but they know that none of that will matter if they fail to end a title drought that stretches back to 2008.

The mission is clear – hang that elusive 18th championship banner from the TD Garden rafters and put recent postseason disappointment, including falling to the Warriors in the 2022 finals and coming up short in the conference finals last year, firmly behind them.

Anything less will be seen as a bitter disappointment.

“They were the best team in the regular season and they have been the best team in the playoffs,” former player and current ESPN analyst JJ Redick said on a call with reporters.

“I feel strongly that they are the favorites going into this series. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Luka and Dallas and Kyrie (Irving) and [head coach Jason Kidd] made this a series and won… This is going to be a phenomenal series.”

Standing in Boston’s way is a confident Mavs team under far less pressure and uniquely equipped to ruin the Celtics’ title aspirations.

That starts with Doncic, the 25-year-old Slovenian who is quickly becoming the face of the league.

He has been the best player in the playoffs and is the first to lead in points (489), rebounds (164), and assists (150) coming into a finals.

By his side is veteran point guard Irving who, after turbulent stints in Brooklyn and Boston, has looked more comfortable and confident on the court than he has in years.

“I think it’s fair to say that offensively they are as talented as any backcourt in NBA history,” Redick said of Doncic and Irving.

One big, 7-foot 2-inch question mark hanging over the series is the health of Boston’s Kristaps Porzingis, the former Maverick who suffered a calf strain in the Heat series and has been sidelined since.

The Celtics are hopeful that their prized offseason acquisition, who averaged 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the regular season, will be healthy enough to match up against the Mavs’ breakout big men Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II.

Game 1 of the NBA Finals is Thursday in Boston. –

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