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5 biggest storylines ahead of 2024 NBA Finals


Thursday's Game 1 will tip off what's expected to be a thrilling Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics. The excitement is largely due to the abundance of talent on display and the intriguing storylines surrounding some of the NBA's biggest names.

Kyrie vs. Boston

Brian Babineau / National Basketball Association / Getty

The biggest overarching theme of this year's Finals is unquestionably Kyrie Irving's return to TD Garden. Many Celtics fans are still upset about how Irving left in 2019 following two seasons in Boston, especially after the star guard implied he was prepared to re-sign a long-term contract with the franchise before reneging and joining the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving's returned to Beantown eight times since bolting for Brooklyn, going 2-6 at his old stomping grounds over the last four years. It doesn't help matters that Irving infamously stomped on the Celtics' midcourt mascot decal while playing for the Nets during one of those contests in May 2021. The Boston faithful likely won't hesitate to give Irving a hard time when he returns to the city for Game 1.

Luka's historic playoff run

Joe Murphy / National Basketball Association / Getty

Of all 197 players to step on the court during these playoffs, nobody has amassed more points, rebounds, assists, field goals, 3-pointers, free throws, and steals than Luka Doncic. Granted, making it to the Finals will boost your postseason counting stats. However, Doncic has been phenomenal, posting 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per contest through 17 playoff games.

Doncic will join a very short list of players to total the most points, rebounds, and assists in a single postseason if he maintains his statistical superiority. That list didn't even exist until recently, with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic pulling off the feat last year for the first time in NBA history.

Kristaps back in Dallas

Brian Babineau / National Basketball Association / Getty

Irving isn't the only familiar face going against a former employer. When Game 3 tips off in Dallas on June 12, it'll be Kristaps Porzingis' first contest in an away jersey at the Mavericks' arena in over six years. The Latvian last played against the Mavs at American Airlines Center in a January 2018 win with the New York Knicks during his third NBA season. He's faced the Mavericks in Dallas on one other occasion - a year prior to that Knicks win.

Porzingis played one game against the Mavs this campaign, dropping 24 points on 4-of-8 shooting from distance (8-of-14 overall) to help Boston secure a 28-point home win in March. His return to Dallas won't garner as much animosity as Irving in Boston. But if Porzingis is fully recovered from that calf strain, he could be instrumental in countering the Mavericks' fierce interior defense.

Mazzulla eyeing history

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Joe Mazzulla's head coaching career isn't quite two years old and he's already carved out an impressive resume, going 121-43 over two regular seasons and a combined 23-11 in the playoffs. There can't be much complaining about Mazzulla's body of work, though he didn't finish inside the top two in Coach of the Year voting in either season. One argument against him - which may have factored into him appearing on just 39 ballots - is that he inherited the core of this Celtics roster when he replaced Ime Udoka. Still, dominant back-to-back campaigns, separated by a significant offseason roster overhaul, demonstrate Mazzulla's coaching savvy and the respect he garners from his squad.

Mazzulla enshrining his name in history would go a long way toward silencing even his loudest critics. If the 35-year-old wins Boston's 18th NBA title this season, he'll become the youngest head coach to win a championship since a 35-year-old Bill Russell did it in 1969. Russell, though, coached while also being one of the best players on that Celtics roster. Don't expect Mazzulla to suit up for Boston in the Finals.

Dallas' deadline upgrades

Glenn James / National Basketball Association / Getty

Few players have overhauled their reputations this postseason to the extent of Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington. Before joining Dallas ahead of the February trade deadline, Gafford had only played on losing teams, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls. Washington, who the Mavs acquired on the same day as Gafford, had only known life in Charlotte after the Hornets drafted him 12th overall in 2019. Both players seemed trapped in hoops mediocrity but have emerged as pivotal pieces in Dallas' run to the Finals.

Washington was front and center during the conference semifinals against Oklahoma City, with the Thunder smothering Doncic and Irving to slow down the Mavs' offense. That opened up space behind the arc for Washington, who torched Oklahoma City from deep in some of the 25-year-old's best performances as a Maverick. Gafford's contributions have been more interior-focused but no less influential, as he's the main rim-protector in Dallas' system. Mazzulla has already conceded that outright stopping Irving and Doncic may not be realistic, so how Gafford and Washington respond to presumably tougher defense will likely dictate how many times the Mavericks beat the 63-win Celtics in the Finals.

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