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Two key players on the way to the NBA Finals

Highlights

  • The Mavericks need PJ Washington to repeat his powerful shooting from the semifinals and counter the Celtics' elite defense.
  • The Celtics rely on Jrue Holiday's consistency as their biggest offensive weapon to prevent the Mavericks from having to adjust defensively.
  • Winning the NBA Finals requires a team effort that goes beyond the star players, which underscores the importance of engaging supporting players.



After the Dallas Mavericks' dominant 21-point Game 5 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team is officially in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. They are 33-14 since the NBA trade deadline and have been one of the league's strongest teams since their mid-season reorganization. On the way to the Finals, they face the Boston Celtics, the eighth most dominant team in NBA history.

The series is full of stars. Many of the stories revolve around Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and for obvious reasons. The NBA is a league where stars take center stage, and those are the players who make the biggest impression. But winning the NBA Finals takes more than just star power; it takes a team effort from the ground up. Here are two players who need to compete for their respective teams in these Finals.



Mavericks need another winning run for Washington

Washington sank 46.9 percent of its three-pointers in the conference semifinals, but only 25 percent in the conference finals.

PJ Washington was the hero for the Mavericks in their conference semifinal series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, shooting an absurdly high 46.9 percent of three-pointers on 8.2 attempts in that series. Not only did he attempt more three-pointers than any other player in the conference semifinals, he did so with the highest efficiency.

Unfortunately, Washington wasn't as successful in the Western Conference Finals, converting just 25 percent of his three-pointers on 6.4 attempts per game. While this performance wasn't ideal, it didn't have too negative an impact on the Mavericks as the load was carried by the rest of the roster.


The Mavericks won't have that luxury against the Celtics, however. Boston has been the most dominant team this season, especially defensively. They had the second-best defense during the regular season and the third-best defense in the entire postseason.

They are currently holding opposing teams to just 33.8 percent three-point shooting in these playoffs and their opponents to 25 percent three-point shooting from the corner. They are doing a great job of preventing teams from getting into trouble from beyond the three-point line, and the Mavericks have relied on that.

The Mavericks have attempted the fifth-most three-pointers this postseason and are also the fifth-most efficient three-point team. The Mavericks as a whole aren't expected to shoot as well against the Celtics' elite three-point defense, and they'll need to rely on a reliable shooter to fall back on.


With most of the Celtics' defensive efforts likely to fail against Dončić and Irving, Washington is the player who will have to step up. He already showed what he can do in the conference semifinals and now needs to find his rhythm again in the upcoming NBA Finals.

The Celtics can't afford to have a cold holiday

Holiday has his most efficient postseason campaign since 2018

Vacation
Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue Holiday has always been a historically outstanding defender, but his offense in the postseason has been anything but consistent. He was never a reliable playoff shooter, especially in the final series of his last few postseason seasons.


Jrue Holiday's notable shooting weaknesses in the playoffs

season

Opponents (playoff round)

FG%

3PT%

TS%

2023

Miami Heat (first round of the Eastern Conference)

40.0

28.6

49.1

2022

Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference semifinals)

36.4

30.0

45.0

2021

Phoenix Suns (NBA Finals)

36.1

31.4

44.1

Holiday hadn't even shot 32 percent from three-point range in his last three postseason seasons and hadn't shot over 41 percent from the field since 2018. This postseason, however, has been different. Holiday is currently having his most efficient playoff season since 2018. He's shooting 39.7 percent from the three-point line, his highest postseason mark since 2012, and he's shooting just under 49 percent from the field overall.

He has been extremely reliable for the Celtics and has played an important role on both ends of the court. The Mavericks have played top-notch defense throughout the playoffs and have done an excellent job of slowing down the opposing team's stars.


Tatum and Brown will likely get most of the Mavericks' attention on defense, and Holiday needs to be able to capitalize on that. If he plays like he has in recent postseasons, the Mavericks will be able to get away with easy doubles and limit the Celtics offense. If he continues to shoot like he has, the Mavericks will be forced to rethink their defensive philosophy, which could give Tatum and Brown room to dominate.

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