The NBA Finals are set, with Boston set to face Dallas for the Larry O'Brien Trophy

Thu, May 30, 2024
NBA News (AP)

The NBA Finals are set, with Boston set to face Dallas for the Larry O'Brien Trophy

Kyrie Irving returning to Boston. Luka Doncic's first trip to the title round. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, getting another chance at a ring. Kristaps Porzingis facing his former team, too.

Pick a storyline. There are many in these NBA Finals.

The matchup is now set: It'll be Boston against Dallas for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a series that starts on the Celtics' home floor on June 6 - meaning everyone will be sitting around and waiting for about a week, a byproduct of the Celtics and Mavericks making short work of their respective conference finals.

Dallas eliminated Minnesota on Thursday night, winning 124-103 to finish off a 4-1 victory in the Western Conference finals. Boston's spot was clinched Monday night, after the Celtics beat Indiana 108-105 to cap a 4-0 series in the East.

"We're going to the NBA Finals," Doncic said during the on-court celebration in Minneapolis on Thursday night. "Just can't believe it, man."

It's Boston's second time in the finals in the last three seasons, after falling to Golden State in six games in 2002. Dallas is in the title round for the first time since winning the championship against Miami in 2011.

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Much will be made, and rightly so, of Irving and the Celtics meeting with a title on the line. Boston made a blockbuster move in 2017 by trading for Irving, with the hopes of seeing him grace its parquet floor in the NBA Finals.

Hey, it'll happen now - just not as the sides envisioned seven years ago.

Irving was an All-Star in both of his Boston seasons, then left as a free agent to join the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 a few months after saying - vowing, really - that he would be staying with the Celtics. There have been some interesting moments in his returns to Boston; he's been routinely booed and had a water bottle thrown at him, while he's been fined for making an obscene gesture and raised ire by stomping on the Celtics' leprechaun logo at midcourt following a Brooklyn playoff win there.

"Boston's in the way and in between our goal," Irving said when the West finals ended Thursday night.

Irving's message to the Mavericks: Enjoy this moment.

"Nothing's guaranteed in this league, especially making it to the finals every year," said Irving, who won a title playing alongside LeBron James with Cleveland in 2016. "We couldn't have done it without a collective responsibility, us working together every single day, practicing hard, doing the little things. We should reward ourselves by playing hard."

Porzingis spent nearly three years in Dallas after being traded there by the New York Knicks in 2019. He's in his first season in Boston and has been a huge part of the Celtics' success - but got hurt in Round 1 against Miami and hasn't played since, though it seems reasonable to think he may be ready for the NBA Finals.

"He's progressing well and he's working really hard to get back," Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.

The Celtics won the two head-to-head meetings against the Mavericks in the regular season, 119-110 at Dallas on Jan. 22 and then 138-110 in Boston on March 1.

The Mavericks didn't have an answer for Tatum; he had 39 points in the January game, 32 in the March matchup. The Celtics didn't have an answer for Doncic; he had triple-doubles in both games - 33 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in January, then 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in March.

Those games won't mean much now.

"This group believes," said Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, who played for the Dallas team that won a title in 2011. "They believe in each other. ... This is a special group."

The Celtics are seeking their 18th title overall, which would break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most in NBA history, and their first championship since 2008.

Against the Warriors two years ago, the championship experience of Golden State prevailed. Lessons were learned then, Boston has insisted since, and the Celtics will get a chance to finish the season differently this time.

"It's a new challenge. It's a different situation," Celtics center Al Horford said. "I'm just excited to be in this position and to have this opportunity."

The Celtics will have spent more than a week without a game before the finals start. Mazzulla said all that downtime won't be spent idly.

"Nothing's really valuable if you let it go to waste," Mazzulla said. "Between now and June 6th, we have to take every experience that we've been through, and we've got to make sure we take advantage of it and that we utilize it to put ourselves in the best position to win."

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TIM REYNOLDS Reynolds is an Associated Press sports writer, based in South Florida. twitter mailto "
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