Analysis: Mavs or Celtics? Who has the edge heading into the NBA Finals?

After a longer than expected break, the NBA Finals is finally on the verge of tipping off and the 2024 Finals could be the most high-profile finals since the Golden State Warriors run in the late 2010’s.

Why? Because unlike last year’s Finals between the Nuggets and Heat, there’s a lot more starpower between both the Mavericks and Celtics.

The storylines are lot juicier, too, with Kyrie Irving and Boston big man Kristaps Porzingis facing their former teams on the biggest stage.

Then there’s the battle between Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum, two of the game’s brightest superstars who are entering their primes and trying to stake their claim as the best player in the world. On paper, both teams have reasons to feel confident, but who really has the edge?

Let’s take a look at the matchups:

Point guard

Luka Doncic vs. Jrue Holiday

Breakdown: Just one of the many high-profile individual battles this series, Doncic and Holiday are two of the best at what they do. Doncic is arguably the most lethal scorer in the game and one of the best playoff performers the NBA has had despite him only being 25 years old. In four playoff runs, Doncic is averaging over 30 points per game and this postseason he’s picked apart Minnesota’s No. 1-rated defense, the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder and future Hall of Famers Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden.

Believe it or not Doncic’s averages this postseason (28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists) are slightly below his standards. As crazy as it sounds, that’s just how dominant Doncic has been in the postseason. On the flip side Holiday had a case as being the league’s top perimeter defender for nearly half a decade with a length run of NBA All-Defense selections. One reason the Celtics are back in the finals is the fact they acquired Holiday from rival Milwaukee this off-season.

Holiday was also a catalyst in the Bucks championship run in 2021. Holiday’s numbers (12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assist) are modest compared to Doncic’s, but Holiday’s the fourth or fifth option for the Celtics and is primarily there for his defense and intangibles, which he has plenty of. There’s really no achetype to slow down Doncic, but Holiday might be the closet to it as he has a similar stature to OKC forward Lu Dort, the only defender that’s been able to bother Doncic this postseason.

Holiday has enough of an offensive game to where Doncic will have to be engaged defensively the entire series, but this is still the type of matchup Doncic lives for.

Shooting guard

Kyrie Irving vs. Derrick White

Breakdown: Irving will have his hands full when he goes up against White, maybe the most underrated player in the NBA. Irving is a superstar talent that can heat up at any moment and is one of the best closers in the NBA when the fourth quarter arrives. Irving has been up and down throughout the playoffs as his scoring average has gone from 25.6 in the regular season to 22.8 in the postseason as defenses have thrown more double teams at him.

White saw his numbers take a step up as his offensive usage increased with Porzingis out of the lineup most of the playoffs. White averaged 15.2 points in the regular and is up to 17.8 points while knocking down 40 percent of his 3-pointers. White has been selected All-Defense two straight seasons and will have a slight size advantage over Irving. Boston will try to use White to wear down Irving on defense as well by running him through screens to get him open looks from deep and White is capable of finishing in the paint.

On paper, most would say this matchup heavily favors Dallas, but it could be a lot closer than you think.


Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum vs. P.J. Washington and Derrick Jones Jr.

Breakdown: Two superstar forwards vs. two forwards that just arrived in Dallas this past season. This is the matchup where the Finals could be won or lost for Dallas. Tatum and Brown have arguably been the best duo in the NBA since Tatum joined the franchise in 2017. Boston has had deep playoff run after deep playoff thanks to the brilliance of both. Tatum is a top-10 player in the league while Brown is one of the highest paid and a multi-time all-star.

Both have great size, athleticism and are three-level scoring threats. Tatum joined Doncic as one of the only players in NBA history to lead to their team in points, rebounds and assists in a playoff series. Tatum is averaging 26.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists. Brown was voted MVP of the Eastern Conference finals and is averaging 25.0 abd 6.2 rebounds this postseason. Both are also upper echelon defenders on the wing and will likely guard Doncic and Irving at some point.

On the flip side Washington and Jones have fully embraced their roles this postseason. Washington’s provided toughness, rebounding and spacing with his consistency knocking down corner 3s. The same can be said for White, who has guarded the opposing team’s best perimeter scorers while also being a factor in transition and knocking 39.6 percent of his 3s. Jones will likely start on Brown with Washington getting a crack at Tatum.

If either is able to slow their matchup down, then it’ll make things easier for Dallas.


Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford vs. Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II

Breakdown: Lively and Gafford have also been a big reason the Mavericks have advanced this far in the playoffs. The pairing bullied Oklahoma City’s smaller frontline and mostly outperformed Minnesota’s expensive core of bigs in the Western Conference finals. Gafford is the older veteran that starts the game while Lively is the talented rookie that comes off the bench and has been able to be a sparkplug with his athleticism on both ends of the floor.

Both have thrived with Irving and Doncic as lob threats while also being quality rim protectors on defense. However, the Celtics frontline will test Dallas in a different way as both Horford and Porzingis do plenty of their damage away from the basket. Horford and Porzingis combine to average over 11 3-point attempts per game and knock roughly 37 percent. Porzingis can also do damage inside, but it’s fair to wonder how he’ll look after missing the last two rounds of the playoffs with a calf injury.

If Porzingis is healthy, the edge likely goes to Boston, but if he’s rusty then this could be another series for Lively in particular to make an impact.


Lively, Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, Jaden Hardy, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dante Exum vs. Horford, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser

Breakdown: The Mavericks have the edge with the reserves as Jason Kidd has been able to find valuable minutes from almost every member on the bench. Boston’s bench will get a boost with Horford returning to the unit after starting for Porzingis, but Dallas’ bench is still younger and more versatile. Hardy has found a groove as a secondary scorer and ballhandler while Green and Exum have provided some sparks on the wing.

Hardaway has yet to catch fire this postseason, but averaged 14.4 points per game during the regular season. While Dallas should confident in its reserve, it’s important to remember that bench play will only impact the series so much. These are role players and the the trophy will ultimately be decided by which stars shine the brightest between Doncic, Tatum, Brown and Irving.