SI:AM | Celtics Make It Look Easy in Game 1 Rout of Mavericks

Kristaps Porzingis led the way, but it was a true team effort.
Porzingis (8) finished with 20 points off the bench in his return to action.
Porzingis (8) finished with 20 points off the bench in his return to action. / Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I spent most of yesterday trying to contextualize the United States’ enormous upset over Pakistan in the T20 cricket World Cup. I think the best way to understand it is that one of the U.S.’s top players has a day job at a software company.

In today’s SI:AM:

☘️ C’s take Game 1
🏀 What losing Hurley would mean for college hoops
Remembering Negro Leagues players

It wasn’t even close

The prevailing narrative around the Boston Celtics this postseason has been that their path through the Eastern Conference should be viewed skeptically for some reason. Sure, their first three opponents were diminished by significant absences due to injury, but that’s no reason to ignore the tremendous résumé that they constructed during the regular season. And in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the Celtics showed why they’ve been the title favorites all year long.

Boston dominated the game from start to finish, cruising to a 107–89 victory. The lead swelled to as many as 29 at one point in the second quarter, and while Dallas managed to trim the deficit to eight points in the third quarter, the Celtics quickly squashed the comeback attempt and took a 20-point lead in the final period.

It was a true team effort from the Celtics, who had six players score in double figures. It was a complete victory for the Celtics—the offense was humming and the defense was smothering. They hit 47.6% of their shots, including 38.1% of their threes. Jaylen Brown led the way with 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and was equally impressive on the defensive end, recording three blocks and three steals while primarily guarding Luka Doncic.

But the most important player for Boston was Kristaps Porzingis. Playing in his first game in more than a month after recovering from a calf injury, Porzingis came off the bench and torched Dallas with 18 points in 13 minutes off the bench in the first half. (He finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting.) He also played a key role on defense, blocking three shots, altering countless others and otherwise making life difficult for the Mavs on the interior.

“Kristaps had a monster game for us,” Brown said. “Just his presence shooting the ball and then him being able to attack those switches and mismatches, he made ‘em pay every time, and that’s what we need going forward in the series.”

There were two glaring and interrelated issues for the Mavericks: poor three-point shooting and a lack of assists. Dallas went 7-of-27 (25.9%) from three and only recorded nine assists as a team. When Doncic was able to collapse the defense and kick it out to an open shooter on the outside, his teammates didn’t knock down their shots. (Doncic didn’t shoot the ball well either, often settling for three-pointers and making just four of 12 attempts from deep.) According to ESPN, the Mavs were 1-for-6 on shot attempts off of passes from Doncic. After averaging a career-best 9.8 assists per game in the regular season and 8.8 per game in the playoffs entering Thursday night, Doncic only had one assist. It was just the seventh time in Doncic’s career that he had one assist or fewer in a game and just the second time during Doncic’s tenure with Dallas that the Mavs recorded fewer than 10 assists in a game. No team has won a playoff game while recording fewer than 10 assists since the Indiana Pacers in 2012.

“We’ve got to move the ball,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “The ball just stuck too much. And we’ll be better in Game 2.”

The game highlighted what is perhaps the biggest difference between the Celtics and the Mavs. While Dallas needs Doncic and Irving to dominate offensively in order to win, Boston has players like Porzingis, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White who are able to supplement the scoring efforts of the star duo of Brown and Jayson Tatum. The Celtics managed to keep Doncic in check in Game 1, and it made all the difference. Unless the Mavs manage to figure out how to break down the Boston defense and allow Doncic to thrive again, this series will last about as long as the Celtics’ previous three did.

Dan Hurley cuts down the net after UConn wins the 2024 college basketball national championship.
Hurley is reportedly the top candidate to fill the Lakers’ head coaching vacancy. / Joseph Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. M.J. Melendez’s unique method of avoiding a tag at home plate.
4. Cydney Sanders’s bases-clearing double for Oklahoma in the Sooners’ national championship win over Texas.
3. Padres announcer Mark Grant’s reaction to a terrible call to end the game.
2. Jaylen Brown’s crossover and poster dunk.
1. This great sequence from Kristaps Porzingis.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).