Mavs vs Celtics NBA Finals X-Factors: Glue Guys Rise Above

All eyes will be on stars like Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum, but a successful championship team needs production from players further down the depth chart. See why Douglas Farmer likes P.J. Washington and others in his NBA Finals X-factors.

Douglas Farmer - Betting Analyst at Covers
Douglas Farmer • Betting Analyst
Jun 2, 2024 • 19:02 ET • 4 min read
PJ Washington Dallas Mavericks NBA
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics have been odds-on favorites to win the NBA Finals for the majority of the postseason. What can the Dallas Mavericks do to pull off this upset as +188 underdogs?

The better question may be what can Boston do to limit Dallas' dangerous offense? That can influence our Mavericks vs Celtics predictions.

Let's look deeper down both teams' depth charts for the biggest X-factors for our NBA picks and NBA Finals predictions.

NBA Finals X-factors

Despite facing two of the stingier defenses in the NBA this postseason, the Dallas Mavericks’ offensive rating has hardly wavered compared to its post-All-Star break numbers, 115.8 then and 115.2 in 17 playoff games.

Two different defensive approaches were used against Luka Doncic & Co. in the last two rounds. The Boston Celtics may have the greatest reserve of defensive wings in the NBA, but they will still need to pick their poison defensively.

Boston needs to make the right bet between Oklahoma City’s and Minnesota’s defensive choices, not that it worked out in either case. Deciphering that bet ahead of time can give you an angle on this series, so let’s start there.

P.J. Washington, sharpshooter or afterthought?

P.J. Washington exploded against the Thunder, taking 8.2 threes per game and hitting 3.8 of them, averaging 17.7 points thanks to clearing 20 in three straight, including two Mavericks wins. Oklahoma City made a choice, leaving Washington open in the corner to try to shut down Doncic's drives and lobs to the rim. Washington made the Thunder pay.

The Timberwolves did not abandon Washington, thus limiting him to just 1.6 made threes and 12.2 points per game. He scored more than 13 points just once and never hit more than a pair of 3-pointers. Minnesota worried about his shooting barrage continuing and, as a result, allowed Dallas to thrive more in the paint.

This is the poison a Doncic-driven offense presents. There is never a point where any offensive player is outside of Doncic’s passing range, no matter how crowded the lane might be. Sag off a shooter in the corner and Doncic will find him just when it looks like he is about to take his own layup. Commit to the shooters in the corners and Doncic will have that much easier access to the rim.

The Celtics may hope their endless supply of wing defenders can cut Doncic off, but that is bold optimism. He will find his way downhill at some point. He is the most veteran 25-year-old in basketball history, playing high-level professional basketball for a full decade now.

Minnesota bet wrong, certainly more wrong than Oklahoma City did. Doncic getting to the rim is a surefire way to lose. Washington getting open shots should not yield a 46.9% hit rate as it did in the conference semifinals, as he was just 32.0% from beyond the arc in the regular season.

So, expect Boston to trust variance to break in its favor, which will leave Washington open often. Even when the Timberwolves devoted resources to Washington, he still took 6.4 threes per game. If he had hit at his regular-season rate, he would have made 2.2 more and come within fractions of clearing the 3-pointers prop set for him in the NBA Finals.

Washington should see even more minutes in the Finals, being Dallas’s best defender and thus its best chance to slow Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown. That should yield only more threes.

Washington may attempt nearly 10 threes per game. He can shoot poorly and still clear this prop. If he shoots well, Boston will badly need to adjust its defense.

P.J. Washington prop: Over 2.2 made threes per game (-115 at DraftKings)

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Derrick White as a third or fourth option

Washington is a strong defender, and Derrick Jones Jr. ably complements him. But Dallas simply does not have the defenders on hand to slow all of Boston’s options.

Assume those two are tasked with Tatum and Brown in some order. Dereck Lively II and/or Daniel Gafford will have to extend to the perimeter to be in Kristaps Porzingis' face. That will leave Doncic or Kyrie Irving on Derrick White.

Doncic is not fast enough to keep up with White, and Irving is not a disciplined enough defender. There may be value in White shining in this series, particularly since he is a rather underappreciated player.

White is averaging 17.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in the postseason. Yet, he is hardly praised while Tatum and Brown take the headlines. White has hit 3.4 threes per game on 40.7% shooting.

The Mavericks have just enough defense to force the ball into White’s hands more often, and he is distinctly good enough to make that hurt. That leads to two betting options.

The conservative route is to take White’s Over on threes made per game, Over 2.7 (-110 at DraftKings). The aggressive route is to think White may up his volume because the Mavs have enough worthwhile defenders to slow Tatum and Brown, and an increased volume on 40% shooting could position White as the Finals leader in threes.

At this price, there is value in that aggressive route.

Derrick White prop: Most made threes (+340 at FanDuel)

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The Porzingis Problem

If Porzingis is genuinely healthy, the Celtics may have too many weapons to be slowed, and he can provide valuable rim protection against Gafford’s and Lively’s lob threats.

If Porzingis is not genuinely healthy, a soleus strain will impact just about every part of his game. Based on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and Mike Conley’s attempts to play through soleus strains, we now know any limitation will be a massive detriment to Porzingis.

He may be reluctant to shoot, quite frankly. If that is the case, he won't come near his points prop for the series.

Furthermore, even if Porzingis is fully healthy, a points prop of 15.4 per game is hefty given the Finals are likely to slow down in general, and he averaged only 14 points in his three healthy postseason games against the Heat.

At 15.4, this series average is an aggressive number, regardless of Porzingis' health, but the chance of him still being slowed underscores some value against him.

Kristaps Porzingis prop: Under 15.4 points per game (-120 at DraftKings)

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