2024 NBA Finals

NBA Finals: 4 things to look for as series returns to Boston for Game 5

Facing elimination, the Mavs' star duo must set the tone in Game 5 of the NBA Finals presented by YouTube TV.

After Dallas staves off elimination in Game 4, the series returns to Boston. Can the Mavs force another flight?

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BOSTON — Two explanations being pushed ahead of Game 5 of the NBA Finals:

1. “Well, we wanted to win at home anyway.”


2. “Nobody expects us to be here, so we have nothing to lose.”

Take a wild guess and match the above to the right team. One of them will be proven correct. There will either be mad foot traffic well past midnight Monday on Causeway Street in front of TD Garden, or this series will receive an unexpected if not seismic jolt and move to Dallas.

The Boston Celtics look to finish the job, the Dallas Mavericks hope to start a discussion. These are the stakes facing two teams approaching this game from separate angles and with different mindsets.

With elimination and buzzards circling above, the Mavericks will look for the usual: Tone-setting from Luka Doncic, a big finish by Kyrie Irving and contributions from everyone else.

The Celtics? This season’s deepest and most dominant team in the NBA must be true to their credentials.

Here are four things to look for in Monday’s Game 5 (8:30 ET, ABC) as the Celtics look to close it out — and the Mavericks hope to make this interesting.

1. Tatum, Brown look to be two much

The Celtics are nearly impossible to beat when this duo is in step. That’s not exactly front-page news, but it underlines what the Celtics need most to make Monday a night to remember.

However, this hasn’t been the case this series. The exception was in Game 3: Brown and Tatum were superb at both ends, combined for 61 points (their teammates scored 45) and were two much to handle.

The Finals MVP honors could be up for grabs between the two if the Celtics win Monday, although it’ll take a strong game by Tatum to remove all doubt. This is the moment they’ve waited for since becoming teammates and reaching the 2022 Finals. If the Celtics win, it’ll be up to them.

2. Irving keeping his ‘win’ streak alive

Finally, his long professional nightmare is over — Kyrie Irving has a win over the Celtics. Until Game 4, he was winless since stomping on the Celtics’ midcourt logo upon returning in his first game with the Brooklyn Nets, which by now is ancient history.

He’s a new man with a new team, his third since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers who helped him win his only title in 2016. It’s pretty clear that to stretch his winning streak to two, Irving must match or surpass Doncic, who has been the more consistent star by far for the Mavericks.

“As an athlete, you want to get another opportunity, and he has that opportunity here tomorrow night,” said Mavs coach Jason Kidd. “Hopefully he can take full advantage of that. Make some adjustments and look back at Games 1 and 2 and see what they were doing to him defensively and hopefully take advantage in Game 5.”

Dallas could use a big fourth quarter by Irving, who normally has that responsibility (Doncic is more the set-up guy). And this game could very well be close.

Irving’s last two games — actually, the last six quarters — have been a massive improvement over Games 1 and 2 when he was meek. His shot began to fall, he found his sweet spots on the court, he got teammates involved.

“I think in order to silence even the self-doubt, let alone the crowd doubt, but the self-doubt when you make or miss shots, that’s just as important as making sure I’m leading the team the right way,” he said.

“I try to pay attention to the positive things that got us wins here earlier in my career, but also thinking about things that I can learn from in performances that I’ve had here where I didn’t play up to par. It’s just being honest about it and just breathing through the experience and having fun with it.”

3. The return of Porzingis?

When the overhead display screen at TD Garden showed Kristaps Porzingis emerging from the locker room after his teammates were already in the layup line, the crowd erupted. This happened in Games 1 and 2 and Porzingis was an impact at both rims for the Celtics.

A freak leg injury — aren’t they all? — sent him back to the bench since then. But he has clearance from the medical staff to play if the situation begs for him.

And it might — the Mavericks (and especially Dereck Lively II) are feasting in the paint in his absence.

If Porzingis chooses another dramatic entrance Monday, that’ll be a good sign for the Celtics.

4. X factor roll call for Monday

The following paragraphs are a Doncic-Tatum-Brown-Irving-free zone. This isn’t about the core stars but, rather, about candidates who might make a difference — with timely and unexpected plays, such as a steal, big shot or some other contribution.

• Jrue Holiday: Whether he’s guarding Doncic, Irving, or both, his presence will be critical — those players are desperate to win. And if he needed any further motivation, Holiday is coming off a poor Game 4 performance.

“I’m a competitor,” he said. “You just have to take it on the chin, come back and prepare for Game 5.”

• Derrick White: A big-shot taker and maker, no matter the circumstances or the time on the clock, White won’t automatically defer if the ball finds him in that situation.

• Tim Hardaway Jr.: After being a ghost throughout this series — actually, the last three or so months — Hardaway took advantage of garbage time in Game 4 and sizzled from deep, making 5-for-7 shots. Maybe he just played his way back into the rotation, perhaps?

“He looked like Ray (Allen) and Steph (Curry),” said Kidd. “So we’re going to need that here in Game 5. If it’s a close game, hopefully he is able to knock down those same shots, get those same shots. But it was great to see Timmy knock down those shots. Hopefully he can build on that.”

• Daniel Gafford. He expressed remorse for his mistakes and not playing up to his standards in this series, and now Gafford promises to bring a different energy. The dunks off pick-and-rolls and rim protection that were evident since he arrived in Dallas after a mid-season trade will need to make a comeback. He’s encouraged by his Game 4 finish.

“Scored a couple of baskets down the stretch, got blocks, gave us a lot of energy at the time because I felt like I was actually doing something to impact and help the team win,” he said. “It was a breath of fresh air.”

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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