Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla has perfect formula against the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic-Kyrie Irving duo

The NBA is a star-driven league, so it’s only natural that the stars drive the narrative of the 2024 Finals. The emphasis is overwhelmingly on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics and Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving of the Dallas Mavericks. But the game plan can’t be simplified by just stopping these offensive wizards over the course of an entire series.

Because something like that is probably not possible. Boston’s head coach is looking beyond the Mavs’ backcourt. “That’s what people like to focus on,” Joe Mazzulla told the press via ClutchPoints on Saturday.

“They don’t look at the game as a cohesive game, and so when those guys play well, they beat you. They don’t look at your offense, turnovers, transition, second chance points, execution on the offensive end… What this series is about is ‘stopping’ those two guys. There’s no stopping it anymore. There is a high level of defense and a complete game is played because every part of the game is connected.”

Mazzulla preaches nuance and strict attention to detail. The league is tasked with selling a product and simplifying the NBA Finals game for casual viewers who can only now actually tune in to the June spectacle. As mentioned earlier: top talent sells. Building this showdown around Doncic and Irving’s play is practical and easy to digest.

However, there are several layers to unpack. The Celtics and Mavericks each have a sensational duo and a very capable supporting cast. When offensive talent is in abundance, sometimes it is the other facets of the game that determine the winner. Of course, shots have to come in, but hustle, tough defense and fierce rebounding are essential to winning a championship.

Celtics can’t afford to be sloppy against Doncic, Irving and Mavs

Joe Mazzulla’s favorite movie is “The Town,” which focuses on the complicated lives of bank robbers in Boston. Like a heist (fictionally speaking, of course), preparation and timing are key in the NBA Finals. The Celtics can’t slack off in key areas as they have in recent postseasons or they won’t survive Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

Those superstar guards become downright horrific when a team makes consistent blunders. Think about the most iconic killers in film history (might as well stick with the movie analogies). Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are ridiculously invincible, but how effective would they be if the teens weren’t incredibly reckless and foolish?

The Celtics can’t venture into the woods or fumble with their keys during the 2024 NBA Finals because the Mavericks’ future Hall of Famers will make them pay for it. And if Boston plays a clean brand of fundamentally sound basketball while showing off its top-notch defense (top-five in opponent points per game, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage), then Doncic and Irving will have to do that. enjoy one of the most prolific shooting sprees in NBA history to lead their team to the title.

To be clear, they have the potential to do just that, but worrying about them excessively is useless for the Cs. Mazzulla will find it an excruciating challenge to shut them both down consistently. He coached a team that won 64 games and ruled the NBA all year long. The Celtics know how to be the best; now they must trust their process and execute it as intended.

That starts with decisively winning the battle against the ‘other boys’.

Boston needs to keep the big men from Dallas in check

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots against Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) in the first quarter during game one of the Western Conference finals for the 2024 NBA Playoffs at Target Center.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Limiting Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving’s offensive attack in the fourth quarter will be crucial, but Joe Mazzulla is certainly aware of the damage Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II can do on both ends of the court. They bring a toughness that the Mavericks sorely lacked last season. It’s up to Boston to stifle it in the Finals.

Once these two centers get comfortable, problems arise for their opponent. They play excellently against the Dallas guards, showing tremendous court awareness in transition and lob situations. Those are momentum shifters that the Celtics must deny if they want to dictate the pace.

Kristaps Porzingis, who tends to adapt, and Al Horford cannot be pushed inside. Their experience and versatility can be a big boost to their team. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will also have to penetrate the paint and figure out how to neutralize Gafford and Lively.

Assuming Mazzulla is right and Doncic and Irving are “unstoppable,” perhaps the Celtics can still prevail by preventing the Mavericks’ other detonators from being activated. This chess match starts Thursday at TD Garden.

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