Celtics vs Mavs NBA Finals Preview: Will Irving Get His Revenge on Celtics?

The NBA Finals will tip off on Thursday, June 6, and Jon Metler has everything you need to know about this series. Find out why our NBA betting picks think the Mavericks backcourt will overpower the Celtics defense.

Jon Metler - Betting Analyst at Covers.com
Jon Metler • Betting Analyst
May 31, 2024 • 16:40 ET • 4 min read
Kyrie Irving Dallas Mavericks NBA
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Finals are set as Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks will take on Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics, and we are taking a look at the series ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 6.

This NBA Finals has the makings of an epic series, as there is plenty of drama surrounding this matchup. If Kyrie Irving returning to Boston wasn't enough drama for you, how about Luka Doncic facing his old teammate in Kristaps Porzingis?

Let's take a closer look at the NBA Finals odds in my series preview for Celtics vs. Mavericks and the X-factors that could decide the series before providing my free NBA picks for a series prop.

Celtics vs Mavs NBA Finals odds

Series Winner

  • Celtics (-210)
  • Mavericks (+175)

Series Spread

  • Celtics -1.5 games (+100)
  • Mavericks +1.5 (-120)

All odds courtesy of DraftKings on 5-31-2024.

Boston Celtics breakdown (No. 1 seed, 64-18)

After a disappointing end to their season last year, when the Boston Celtics lost to the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics made some bold moves in the offseason that paid off.

The Celtics traded Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team deal for Kristaps Porzingis, but they weren't done retooling their roster after that move. The Celtics also acted quickly to acquire Jrue Holiday after he was traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Portland Trail Blazers, and the price wasn't cheap as they sent the reigning 6th Man of the Year winner, Malcolm Brogdon, and Robert Williams to the Trail Blazers.

Joe Mazzulla was adamant that these trades were made because the Celtics needed a curveball on offense, which was their weakness in the playoffs last season. What he means is that while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are both elite offensive talents, their games are very similar, and they needed an interior presence on offense. This is why the Celtics acquired Porzingis, giving them a floor-spacing big who they can also dump the ball inside to in the post.

The Celtics finished the regular season with the best record along with the best offensive rating (122.2), the second-best defensive rating (110.6), and the best net rating (11.7) in the NBA.

The Celtics have absolutely run through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, as they matched up with several teams battling injuries on top of being overmatched. The NBA Finals will provide the Celtics with their first real test in these playoffs, as the Celtics are trading as a -210 favorite over the Mavericks, whereas when the Eastern Conference Finals began, the Celtics were a -900 favorite over the Indiana Pacers.

Celtics X-factor: Making Doncic play defense

The Celtics' five-out offense, where they can attack your weak points on defense without even generating some switches first, is going to be a major X-factor for them in this series because it will force Luka Doncic into playing defense. It's not that Doncic isn't capable of playing defense when he wants to, but the Mavericks try to hide him as much as possible so he can save his energy for offense. 

As the Mavericks made their way through the Western Conference Finals, this was really easy because of the teams they faced. Whether it was the Clippers with Terance Mann and PJ Tucker, the Thunder with Josh Giddey, or the Timberwolves with Jaden McDaniels, Doncic was able to catch a breather on defense because each team had a player who wasn't much of an offensive threat or was more of just a catch-and-shoot option on offense.

Against the Celtics, this will be extremely different as Doncic will be forced to guard Jrue Holiday or Derrick White — I expect it to be Holiday — and the Celtics will have actions to go right at him and make him move his feet. This is the specialty of the Celtics offense; they aren't dependent on one player and just look to exploit any offensive advantages they can. The other teams wanted to make Doncic waste more energy on defense, but they just didn't have the roster for that to be possible; the Celtics do.

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Dallas Mavericks breakdown (No. 6 seed, 47-35)

Similar to the Boston Celtics, the Dallas Mavericks also find themselves in a spot where their roster benefits from some really savvy moves via trades. The Mavericks team you saw at the beginning of the season is nowhere near the team you are watching right now, following the addition of P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline.

The Mavericks' front office has done a tremendous job of putting the right role players around Doncic and Irving, which includes the frontcourt duo of Dereck Lively and Gafford. These two are the perfect complements to the talents of Doncic and Irving, and they have almost identical skill sets. It allows the Mavericks to receive 48 minutes of the exact same level of play from their five positions, anchoring their defense as rim protectors and giving Doncic and Irving elite lob threats on the offensive end.

When the season began for the Mavericks, their philosophy was more that they knew their defense wasn't the strongest, but they were very comfortable playing in the 120s because when it comes to the fourth quarter, they knew they had two elite closers in Irving and Doncic.

That is not the case anymore. The Mavericks had the best defensive rating in the NBA over the final 15 games (106.1), and that defensive intensity has carried over into the NBA Playoffs.

The Mavericks were underdogs in every series they played in the Western Conference and have cashed three straight series prices at plus money against the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Mavericks make it four in a row against the Celtics?

Mavericks X-factor: Best Scoring Backcourt Ever

The Celtics had the second-best defensive rating in the NBA this season, primarily due to their elite perimeter defense as a team, but especially from White and Holiday. You'd think this would be a problem for the Mavericks as the entire offense flows through their backcourt of Doncic and Irving, but I actually think it's the opposite.

In basketball, you can't completely shut down anyone; you're just hoping to be disruptive enough. When the Celtics take on all these other teams in the NBA, dealing with the defense of Holiday and White is a nightmare, but the Mavericks have not one but two guards who are essentially matchup-proof.

I say this because when you watch the film, Holiday is someone who uses his size, strength, and basketball IQ to play elite defense. But Doncic is bigger, knows how to use his body, and also relies more on elite basketball IQ than just raw athleticism. In their previous matchup this season, Doncic didn't look bothered at all by Holiday guarding him and was still able to get to his spots.

If Doncic and Irving are still able to get to their spots on the floor and generate offense for their teammates, what does the Celtics' defense begin to look like at that point? The Celtics' perimeter defenders are used to being able to take things away and being disruptive to the opposing team's offense.

The Timberwolves' defense not only had elite defenders at the point of attack but were also backed up by rim protection, and their coaching staff could play chess with all of their options on defense, yet they still couldn't slow them down. The Celtics' rim protection isn't as strong as the Timberwolves', and they definitely don't have the depth the Timberwolves had to begin making a ton of adjustments. 

Celtics vs Mavs prediction

I think this series will be fascinating, especially from a betting perspective, because you will probably see drastically different opinions as to why people are backing whichever team they are to win the NBA Finals.

If you judge the Mavericks based on their stats from the entire regular season, the numbers will definitely have you betting on the Celtics, but this is an unfair assessment of Dallas. They are not even close to the same team they were when the regular season started. The role players seeing minutes beside Doncic and Irving have completely changed, and the entire season flipped for them when they acquired Gafford and Washington at the trade deadline.

This Mavericks team you are watching at this moment in the NBA Playoffs is extremely dangerous because everyone knows their role. There is nothing more dangerous than a basketball team filled with players who perfectly complement each other and know their role on the court.

Not only do the Mavericks have a hierarchy, role players who fit perfectly beside Doncic and Irving, but they are led by a primetime player who is an assassin on the big stage. Doncic is not afraid of the moment, and as the lights get brighter, the Mavericks have not one but two players they can lean heavily on to carry this team.

This will be an extremely tough series, and if the Mavericks are going to win, it will probably take seven games. I did jump on the lookahead line of +230 for the Mavericks to defeat the Celtics in the NBA Finals, and this number is now trading at +185. Even at +185, I would still bet on the Mavericks. The Mavericks have been plus-money underdogs in every series in these playoffs, and a big factor in this is that I just don't believe their power rating has caught up to this version of the Mavericks.

NBA Finals pick: Mavericks to win (+185 at bet365)

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