Stifling Defense Moves Celtics Halfway to Banner 18

Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) blocks the shot of Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the third quarter in game two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) blocks the shot of Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the third quarter in game two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
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Teams that win the first two games of the NBA Finals at home have won the championship 84.4% of the time (27-5). 

There was no point in Sunday's matchup where it felt like this series would move to Dallas without the Celtics claiming a commanding 2-0 lead.

While Boston struggled from beyond the arc, converting on only 10/39 (25.6) of its three-point attempts, usually a cause for concern, including an emotion that one can sense coming from those on the floor, there was a calmness about how the hosts operated on Sunday.

They weathered poor shooting and the increased physicality of a desperate opponent. From an emotional and intangible perspective, it was the collective experience of a core that's far from strangers to pressure-filled moments, including on the NBA Finals stage, that proved paramount to them staying present and connected, regardless of what was happening on the floor.

From an execution standpoint, the Celtics delivered another dominant defensive performance, again holding Dallas under 100 points.

Jrue Holiday, the MVP of Game 2, clamped Kyrie Irving, operating as the driving force that limited him to 16 points on 18 shots.

Jaylen Brown wore out Luka Doncic, who fought through several injuries but went from generating 23 points in the first half to nine points on eight shots and also committed five of his eight turnovers in the final 24 minutes.

There was also Derrick White acting like an elite free safety, registering multiple transition blocks, including one to seal the Celtics' 105-98 victory, and stepping in front of a pass an exhausted Doncic sailed toward the sideline near halfcourt in the final frame, leading to a three by Holiday to push Boston's advantage to 11 with 4:03 left.

The two-time All-Star also wreaked havoc from the dunker spot on Sunday, working in concert with Jayson Tatum, who finished with a game-high 12 assists.

Holiday, who finished with a team-best 26 points, made 11/14 attempts, attacking out of the corner, driving downhill for points at the rim, scoring off cuts, and faring 2/4 from beyond the arc.

The stage he was on is a significant point in the argument that this was his best game as a Celtic.

Now for a deep dive into what stood out as that unfolded while Boston bested the Mavericks to protect the parquet for a second straight matchup and put Dallas in a hole that may prove too steep to dig out of for a team facing an opponent boasting six of the top eight players in this series.

1. Dealing with a thoracic contusion on top of a right ankle sprain and left knee soreness, Luka Doncic got downgraded to questionable, labored into TD Garden, and had his knee and ribs taped as his name got called while the Mavericks' starters got introduced.

He shook off those ailments to knock down three of his first four shots, producing six points in the first 3:09 of Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The five-time All-Star, the lone player to score in double figures in the opening frame, registered 13 points on 5/7 shooting, leading the way as Dallas manufactured a 14-8 edge in the paint.

2. That advantage was crucial because the first 12 minutes of Sunday's matchup were a defensive slugfest. Leading the way for the Celtics was Jaylen Brown, who picked up Doncic full court, clamped Kyrie Irving, poking the ball free before forcing a traveling violation, and brought an infectious energy to his inspired play on that end of the floor.

Boston also continued with the approach that held the Mavericks to 89 points in Game 1, deploying Kristaps Porzingis in drop coverage, being quick to switch when a screen involved its other defenders, including Al Horford, and daring the likes of P.J. Washington and Maxi Kleber to knock down open threes.

The visitors went 2/5 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. Unfortunately, for the hosts, they couldn't buy a long-range basket, faring 1/9 from three-point range.

The result was entering the second period trailing 28-25 after a 6-3 close to the quarter by Dallas.

3. A difficult first half for Jayson Tatum that included a lack of whistles despite multiple drives to the rim and only one trip to the free-throw line saw him fare 2/9 to start, including 0/3 from behind the arc and 2/5 in the restricted area.

The five-time All-Star entered halftime with only five points. However, in the latest reflection of how his scoring doesn't define his game, the former Duke Blue Devil dished out a game-high eight assists in the first 24 minutes, tying his career high in the first half of a postseason game.

4. What had to concern the visitors entering intermission is that despite Boston's long-range struggles, converting on just 3/15 (20%) of its three-point attempts, the Mavericks went 4/13 (30.8%) in the first two frames.

And while they generated a 10-2 advantage in second-chance scoring, with the shooters the Celtics sagged off of, like Derrick Jones Jr., making an impact by crashing the glass, capitalizing on just 5/11 (45.5%) free throws, with the hosts making all 13 of its attempts, had them trailing 54-51 at the break.

For Dallas to get 23 first-half points from Doncic and see Boston struggle to find its rhythm and fail to take advantage is an ominous sign for the visitors entering the final 24 minutes.

5. The x-factor for the Celtics in the first half was Jrue Holiday. The two-time All-Star delivered a team-high 17 points. He attacked out of the corner and worked a beautiful back-and-forth with Tatum. The former UCLA Bruin also made an impact in the dunker spot. And, of course, Holiday capitalized from the corner.

6. In a concerning moment late in the third quarter, Kristaps Porzingis started stiffening up. He walked gingerly back to the Boston bench when Dallas called timeout with 2:57 left in the period. However, after the training staff checked on him, he engaged in the team huddle and stayed on the floor following the break.

About two minutes later, the seven-foot-three center thwarted Daniel Gafford at the rim, sending the TD Garden faithful into a frenzy.

7. Less than a minute after Porzingis' rejection, Payton Pritchard, who Joe Mazzulla subbed in with 3.1 seconds left, knowing the reserve guard isn't afraid to let it fly as the final seconds tick off, buried a buzzer-beating three from 34-feet.

That shot capped a second straight 29-23 quarter in favor of the Celtics and gave the hosts an 83-74 edge entering the final 12 minutes.

8. In the final frame, sequences like Pritchard swooping in to strip Doncic, leading to beautiful ball movement on the fast break and a layup by Brown, helped Boston extend its lead.

There was also Derrick White intercepting a pass that sailed toward the sideline near half court, keeping the ball in play, and Al Horford finding Holiday for a three from the left wing, giving the hosts a 100-89 advantage with 4:03 left.

9. With Doncic fatigued, registering nine points on eight shots in the second half while also committing five turnovers after intermission, a Mavericks rally looked improbable.

10. Despite faring 0/4 from beyond the arc, a low-scoring final frame kept Dallas within striking distance until Derrick White swatted P.J. Washington's transition attempt at the rim, leading to a bucket by Brown that represented the knockout blow in the Celtics' Game 2 victory.

11. Game 3 is on Wednesday night in Dallas. It will tip off at 8:30 EST at American Airlines Center.

Further Reading

Jayson Tatum Responds to Jason Kidd's Shocking Comment

Jayson Tatum's Joy Outweighing Pressure of NBA Finals Return

Inside the Moment that Propelled Celtics to NBA Finals Game 1 Win

Preparation and Perspective Fueling Kristaps Porzingis in NBA Finals

Celtics Set the Tone for the NBA Finals with Game 1 Haymaker

Celtics Stars Reflect on Lessons Learned from 2022 NBA Finals

Kyrie Irving Shares Regret and What He Takes from Playing in Boston

Joe Mazzulla Eviscerates Contrived Narrative about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

Kristaps Porzingis Details Mental Side of Rehab as He Readies for NBA Finals Return

Al Horford Returns to NBA Finals Aiming to Add to a Legacy Already Cemented

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.