NBA Finals: things to look for as the Celtics try to finish off the Mavericks.

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Dallas — Ask any past NBA champion about the challenge of defeating another team on their home court.

The Boston Celtics have encountered few hurdles in a 2024 postseason in which they have only lost twice — a fantastic run made possible by superior depth, great play on both ends, and, yes, critical injuries on opposing teams.

Beating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 (8:30 ET, ABC) of the NBA Finals presented by YouTube TV to complete a sweep on Friday. That might be a daunting assignment, possibly their biggest.

Here’s what may go against the Celtics:

  • A vengeful Luka Doncic
  • Kyrie Irving regaining his touch
  • The chance that the Mavs’ supporting cast might show up in this series
  • The rarity of a sweep in the Finals.

Of course, the Celtics have plenty of reasons to flex, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as a squad that may have to adjust for the absence or limits of an ailing Kristaps Porzingis.

Here are four factors to consider in a do-or-die situation for the host club and the visitors’ quest for title No. 18:

The Hunger Game for the Celtics

It is human instinct to take your foot off the throttle when it looks that the inevitable is approaching. And if you dispute this, you must have a short memory. Didn’t the Celtics almost squander a 21-point fourth-quarter lead Wednesday?

If Boston can’t resist the impulse to unwind and relax, Game 4 might backfire against them, giving the Mavs a glimmer of hope and sending the series back to Boston.

The Mavericks will be determined to win those energy plays by crashing hard for boards, tightening up defensively, and working for easier shots. They have the manpower; however, Dereck Lively II, Daniel Gafford, and others have already been neutralised.

“Just because we’re down 3-0, it’s not over,” Lively stated. “It’s just going to come down to us throwing all we have on the floor and trying to win small fights because that’s what’s going to win us the game. Winning the rebounding game, the transition game, and then simply trying to prevent them from doing what they’re doing.”

Given Boston’s apparent talent advantage, if the Celtics match the Mavs’ expected energy, the game is likely to be over. However, human nature persists.

“We’re just locked in,” explained guard Derrick White. “We understand what’s at stake. We recognise that close-out games are the most difficult, and we just bring an extra edge.”

Jaylen Brown secured another bag.

Let’s look at the so-called negative of Brown’s recent 12 months. Do not fear, this will be quick.

  • He didn’t make any of the All-NBA teams
  • He wasn’t chosen for the 2024 Olympic Team

That is it. Otherwise, life has been nice. Excellent, in fact.

Last summer, Brown got the most lucrative contract in NBA history. Last month, he was named the Eastern Conference Finals’ most outstanding player. And he’s just one solid performance away from being voted Finals MVP, where he is currently the favourite.

What a life-changing run by Brown, who has long been overlooked by Tatum but is suddenly vying for a place among the league’s best players.

He appears to be poised for a good series finale. Not only is he endowed with clear all-around abilities and causing significant difficulties for the Celtics, but he’s also very likely smelling two trophies — the Larry O’Brien and Bill Russell awards.

Kyrie Irving’s Leadership

He once helped a team come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the tournament. He made one of the greatest shots in NBA Finals history. Throughout the season, he has portrayed himself as a mature and smart player.

If your team is one defeat away from losing the NBA Finals, you should have Kyrie on the roster.

Who would have expected that Kyrie, rather than Luka, would be the calmer presence amid the Mavs’ star backcourt? While one battled an ailing body and the officials, the other demonstrated accountability and contrition, followed by a promise to do better.

And Kyrie added Thursday that if Luka asks him for guidance on how to handle the situation, he will provide it.

“There are a lot of first-timers on this stage,” he stated. “I’ve stated it several times in the last week or so: being among these people and being challenged at this level is a new experience for me as well.

“But my message to him is that he isn’t alone in this. He’s played as well as he can given the circumstances, which include injuries and such. He’s given it his all. It’s not all on him. Being under the microscope in this profession is quite different for me today because I can see the larger picture of life and the game in perspective. “It comes easier.”

Possible X-ray variables

Derrick White is unstoppable in this regard; the Celtics have greatly benefited from his play on both ends, particularly from his readiness to adjust to the situation. In a close game, he will shoot if he is open; just look at his huge 3-pointer at the end of Game 3.

“It’s because I get to play with amazing players,” he said. They believe in me, and they place me in those situations. I just try to keep my composure and have faith in the effort I’ve done.

Other contenders for the fourth game?

It’s time for Derrick Jones Jr. For a guy who thrives on defensive play, lob assists for dunks, and corner 3-pointers, the series has been quiet thus far. During the playoffs, everything was on show; yet, during the Finals, it all vanished. Last summer, Jones signed a one-year contract with Dallas, placing a wager on himself. It’s time for him to try to win that wager, since free agency is about to begin in the summer.

Dereck Lively II may make a comeback. and make a dunk. And if Porzingis is out due to injury, make it difficult for the Celtics to score in the paint. Lively had an 11–13 double-double on Wednesday, maybe his greatest performance of the series. His enthusiasm and capacity to lure Al Horford into foul territory would be quite noticeable.

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