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Ranking the top 15 players in Celtics-Mavs NBA Finals

Ranking the top 15 players in Celtics-Mavs NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

With superstars on both sides, the 2024 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks could come down to which team has the best supporting cast.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are expected to shine for Boston just as Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are for Dallas. Each will have their moments, but they aren't the X-factors in this upcoming series.

The Celtics will need Derrick White and Jrue Holiday to step up offensively while continuing to showcase their All-Defensive talents against one of the NBA's best duos. They'll also hope to get Kristaps Porzingis back at full strength to add a rim protector as well as another dimension to the offense.

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Dallas will need Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford to dominate Boston in the paint. Meanwhile, P.J. Washington will be counted on to provide consistent scoring, and Derrick Jones Jr.'s defense on Tatum and Brown will be crucial.

There is no shortage of impactful players in this series, so how do they all stack up? Here's 15 of the top players set to take the court in the Finals, ranked:

15. Sam Hauser, Celtics

Hauser made significant strides on both ends of the floor during the regular season but has gone ice-cold in the playoffs. The 26-year-old snapped an 0-for-10 3-point shooting skid in Game 4 against Indiana and finished the series a woeful 1-for-14 from deep. Now would be a nice time for him to revert to his 42-percent 3-point-shooting form.

14. Josh Green, Mavericks

Green, 23, has been a solid 3-and-D bench wing for Dallas over the last two seasons. The 18th overall pick in the 2020 draft has steadily improved over his first four years in the league, especially as a playmaker.

13. Payton Pritchard, Celtics

Don't let this ranking fool you. Pritchard can swing games in Boston's favor with his shot-making and his uncanny ability to haul in rebounds despite his size. The Oregon product provides an instant spark with his energy off the bench and can be a difference-maker in this series.

Payton Pritchard
Payton Pritchard has provided a big spark off the bench for Boston.

12. Daniel Gafford, Mavericks

When you hear pundits say the Celtics need a healthy Kristaps Porzingis to win this series, Gafford is among the reasons why. The 25-year-old big man can dominate the paint on both ends with his ferocious dunks and outstanding rim protection. Boston was exposed in the paint at points during the Indiana series, and Dallas poses the same potential problem in the Finals if Porzingis isn't at his best.

11. Derrick Jones Jr., Mavericks

Jones signed a one-year minimum contract with Dallas during the offseason. He has turned out to be one of the best free-agent bargains.

The 27-year-old forward has been an unsung hero for the Mavs in these playoffs. In 17 postseason games, he has averaged 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 31.2 minutes. As a stellar defender, he will play a crucial role for Dallas against Celtics superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

10. P.J. Washington, Mavericks

PJ Washington
P.J. Washington has made strides defensively since joining the Mavs.

Other than Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, Washington is the only Mavs player averaging double figures this postseason. The former Kentucky standout has also been noticeably better defensively since coming over from Charlotte. This series could very well come down to the supporting casts, making Washington a key piece for Dallas as it looks to pull off the upset.

9. Dereck Lively II, Mavericks

Lively has gone under the radar this season as the sixth-place finisher in NBA Rookie of the Year voting, but his presence has been impossible to ignore in these playoffs. The 20-year-old has given Dallas an additional threat in the paint with his rim protection and ability to finish on the offensive end. He and Gafford could give the Celtics some issues inside during this series.

8. Al Horford, Celtics

Horford, who turns 38 on Monday, will likely return to his sixth-man role if Porzingis returns. He stepped up in Porzingis' absence during the conference finals, averaging 12.8 points while shooting 46.2 percent from the floor (39.3 percent from 3). When he's shooting lights out from deep, it's nearly impossible to keep up with this elite Celtics offense.

7. Jrue Holiday, Celtics

Derrick White and Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday and Derrick White form the best defensive backcourt in the NBA.

Holiday is a six-time All-Defensive guard (a second-team selection this year) and won an NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021. Boston's prized offseason addition took a step back offensively with so many other scorers on the roster, but he's continued to be a relentless force on the defensive end. The soon-to-be 34-year-old made multiple clutch defensive plays against Indiana while averaging 18.5 points per game in the series. He'll face his toughest test yet keeping Doncic and Irving in check.

6. Derrick White, Celtics

White, a second-team All-Defense selection for consecutive seasons, has developed into one of Boston's best all-around players since arriving in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs in 2022. The 29-year-old is the best shot-blocking guard in the league on top of being a sensational 3-point shooter. All eyes will be on Tatum, Brown, Doncic and Irving, but White is an X-factor in this series.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, Celtics

Speaking of X-factors, Porzingis' looming return from a calf injury is one of the biggest storylines heading into the series. While Boston hasn't missed a beat in his absence, there's no doubt they're a different team when he's in the starting lineup. The 7-foot-3 Latvian's rim protection will be much-needed, and if he picks up where he left off on the offensive end, the Mavs will have their work cut out for them.

4. Kyrie Irving, Mavericks

Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving continues to play at an All-Star level while embracing his role as Luka Doncic's sidekick.

Celtics fans are all too familiar with Irving, who spent two tumultuous seasons in Boston from 2017-19. It didn't work out with the C's or the Brooklyn Nets, but the eight-time All-Star seems revitalized by his opportunity to play as Luka Doncic's sidekick in Dallas.

Irving has averaged 22.8 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor (42.1 percent from 3) in the playoffs. His buy-in on the defensive end of the floor is a big reason the Mavs have gotten to this point. He'll get booed loudly when he returns to TD Garden on Thursday, but C's fans may want to tread lightly and avoid poking the bear.

3. Jaylen Brown, Celtics

Brown earned Eastern Conference Finals MVP honors after averaging 29.8 points on 51.7 percent shooting. His superb performance was the perfect response to his All-NBA snub, and you can bet he'll carry that extra motivation with him into the Finals. Brown is also playing the best defense of his career, making him one of the best two-way players in this series. His final defensive test against Doncic will mark his toughest yet.

2. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have arguably the NBA's best star duo.

Boston's superstar has averaged 26.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in this postseason. A four-time All-NBA selection and five-time All-Star, Tatum will look to bounce back from his lackluster 2022 Finals performance against Golden State when he shot just 36.7 percent from the floor. He's at his best when he aggressively attacks the rim, so if he does that while shooting at a better clip from beyond the arc (29 percent in these playoffs), he'll be the overwhelming favorite for Finals MVP.

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Luka Doncic.
Luka Doncic's elite scoring ability makes him the best player in the 2024 NBA Finals.

Doncic has been the unquestionable best player in the playoffs and there's an argument to be made that he deserved the 2023-24 NBA MVP award. The Slovenian star averaged 33.9 points per game during the regular season and has averaged 28.8 points per game in the postseason.

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves had no answer for Doncic. Boston has two of the league's best defensive guards in Holiday and White, and Brown has prided himself in guarding the opponent's best player all season, but even that may not be enough to limit the league's most lethal scorer.