NBA Finals: Favored Celtics aim for record 18th title vs. Mavericks

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is the favorite to claim NBA Finals MVP honors. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
1 of 5 | Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is the favorite to claim NBA Finals MVP honors. File Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

June 5 (UPI) -- Jayson Tatum will try to shed narratives of personal playoff struggles while aiming for a record 18th title for the Boston Celtics during a 2024 NBA Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, starting Thursday in Boston.

"You think that you're young, and if you've been once, you'll continue to keep going," Tatum told reporters, when asked about his previous playoff runs. "We realized that last year.


"We kind of took it for granted at certain moments and we didn't make it to the Finals."

Contradictory elements of recent shortcomings paired with a nearly unmatched franchise resume are further supplemented by the fact that the Celtics, who posted the NBA's best regular-season record (64-18), are heavy favorites to win the series, which will tip off at 8:30 p.m. EDT Thursday in Boston.


The best-of-seven game series, which could extend until June 23, will air on ABC. The Celtics' 17 championships are currently tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most in the history of the 77-year-old NBA.

"We only hang NBA championship banners, right? Seventeen of them," Tatum said. "Some of the greatest players to ever play this game wore this uniform. All of us are honored to follow in their footsteps, the way they paved for us to live out our dream.

"Essentially, if you want to be one of the greats to put on this uniform, every great before you won a championship. That's what we try to play for every single season. The expectations are obviously different here. It takes special players to be here and to be a part of an environment like that."

Switching sides

Tatum, fellow Celtics forward Jaylen Brown and center Al Horford remain as the top players on the Celtics roster who also were present during their previous playoff runs over the last seven years. Five of their previous six postseason trips ended without trips to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games during their last title series appearance in 2022.


"We've been able to go through the experiences of having success, but not having success at the same time," Brown said. "I think to solidify the ultimate goal is to get over the hump and win. I think that will add a lot to our legacy. But as of right now, that story is kind of still untold."

The told aspects are the narrative include other major changes to both the Celtics and Mavericks rosters -- but the names are very familiar.

Grant Williams, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier, Robert Williams and Marcus Morris are among the players who were previously part of the Celtics' runs, but now play elsewhere. Another former Celtics star, Kyrie Irving, is now leading the Mavericks with his championship-caliber experience.

"His leadership is amazing," Mavericks All-NBA guard Luka Doncic said of Irving. "The way he connects us. I think me and Kyrie are the leaders of this team, but he's the one that's been in the Finals. He's the one that won in the Finals. He's the one that is really leading it. He's keeping us all together and motivated."


The Celtics also roster a former Mavericks contributor, with center Kristaps Porzingis set to face his former team in the NBA Finals. Tatum and his teammates have also said the off-season addition of Jrue Holiday, an NBA champion in 2021, has largely improved their depth.

"They've gotten tremendously better," Irving said of the Mavericks. "They've led their team to this point. So I'm proud of them. I'm looking forward to the competition because this is what we've all strived for since we were kids, basketball at this level playing against the best of the best.

"They have a great team over there, led by a great coach. So we're going to be in for a great series, hard, tough series. They're going to give us their best. I know they're not going to slow down when they see me. They're going to come at me even more. This is what I've been preparing for since last summer or when our season ended last year of putting in the time to prepare for moments like this."

Doncic piled up personal accolades during his first five seasons in the league, but also went to the Western Conference finals just once through his first three postseason appearances. Irving's presence, paired with newcomer P.J. Washington and Williams -- another former Celtics contributor -- helped lead the Mavericks back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011.


Who and how to watch

The favored Celtics also are 6.5-point favorites to win Game 1. Tatum, who is averaging 26 points per game this postseason, is the leading contender to claim NBA Finals MVP honors.

Doncic, who led the NBA with 33.9 points per game this season and logged 28.8 points per game this postseason, Irving and Brown are among the other players sportsbooks expect to vie for the hardware.

The Celtics beat the Mavericks (50-32) in both of their regular-season matchups. Doncic logged triple-doubles in both Mavericks losses. He first totaled 33 points, 13 assists and 18 rebounds in a 119-110 setback Jan. 22 in Dallas. He later recorded 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a 138-110 loss March 1 in Boston.

The Celtics outshot the Mavericks 46% to 44% and 55% to 46% in those respective meetings.

"This is the best of the best at the highest level," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of the NBA Finals matchup. "It's fun. That's what the Finals are all about, is seeing what team is going to step forward and take advantage of mistakes."

The least expensive tickets for Game 1 were about $550, before taxes, on the secondary market as of Thursday morning. The most-expensive tickets were listed for in excess of $35,000. Ticket prices for Game 3 in Dallas range from about $670 to more than $45,000.


For those who don't travel to the games, ABC will follow its Thursday broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday with Game 2 in Boston. Respective Game 3 and Game 4 broadcasts will air at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and June 14 from Dallas. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 8:30 p.m. June 17 in Boston.

Game 6 will be at 8:30 p.m. June 20 in Dallas. Game 7 is set for 8 p.m. June 23 in Boston.

NBA Finals

All times EDT


Game 1: Mavericks at Celtics at 8:30 p.m.


Game 2: Mavericks at Celtics at 8 p.m.


Game 3: Celtics at Mavericks at 8:30 p.m.

June 14

Game 4: Celtics at Mavericks at 8:30 p.m.

June 17

Game 5 (if necessary): Mavericks at Celtics at 8:30 p.m.

June 20

Game 6 (if necessary): Celtics at Mavericks at 8:30 p.m.

June 23

Game 7 (if necessary): Mavericks at Celtics at 8 p.m.

Latest Headlines