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Boston Celtics vs Dallas Mavericks Game 5 preview: Three things to watch, injury news, odds

NBA: Finals-Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks

Jun 14, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dribbles against Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the first half of game four of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON — Was Game 4 an aberration or the start of a trend?

For three games, the Boston Celtics were clearly the best team in the 2024 NBA Finals — even when their shooting was off in Game 2, the Celtics found a way to win.

Game 4 was very, very different — a 38-point blowout win by Dallas to force a Game 5 back in Boston.

Was that a one-off? A great night from Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on a night the Celtics mailed it in? Or, did Dallas find something they can sustain?

Let’s break down Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals and try to determine whether there will be a Game 6.

Betting odds for NBA Finals Game 5

Dallas Mavericks (+205) vs Boston Celtics (-250)
Spread: Celtics -6.5 | O/U: 209.5

Injury news, updates

• Kristaps Porzingis is again officially questionable for Game 5 with his ankle/foot issue. This will likely end up like Game 4, where he was technically available in a “break glass in case of emergency” situation, or as Joe Mazzulla put it, “we’re only going to use him in very specific instances if necessary.” Xavier Tillman (who gets some of KP’s minutes and has played well) says it still looks like Porzingis is in some pain when he moves sharply, but ultimately the doctors will make the call.

• Luka Doncic is probable. He has gotten a pain-killing injection for his bruised chest and that could happen again, and he continues to play through leg and ankle issues.

“At this point in the season, a lot of things going on. If I’m playing, I’m fine,” Doncic said.

Three things to watch for in Game 5

1) There’s pressure on Boston now

To a man, the Celtics denied feeling it, but there is pressure on them to win Game 5 and end this series.

“We really want to win the next game, but if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” Payton Pritchard said. “We have three more rounds to go, at (most). But the most important game is the next one, and to do it in front of the home crowd would be special.”

The pressure is there because if the Celtics lose Monday the Mavericks can see a path to the ring — the series shifts to Dallas on Thursday, and if the Mavericks can hold home court suddenly there is a Game 7 and anything can happen.

The Celtics almost did that to the Heat a season ago in the Eastern Conference Finals (and if Jayson Tatum didn’t
roll his ankle on the first play of that Game 7, who knows what happens). That puts a little urgency on the Celtics.

“I think we understand that they are a desperate team and they are playing probably a little freer. We know what that mindset is like,” Al Horford said, remembering the experience of a year ago. “For us, it’s really controlling what we can control and making sure that we are solid in the things that we need to do.”

2) Dallas has to defend like it did in Game 4

Dallas has figured some things out.

“I wouldn’t say we solved the puzzle,” Derrick Lively said. “I feel like we definitely got a couple pieces, but we don’t have the whole set.”

The Mavericks changed things up in the second half of Game 3 (and it sparked their comeback that night). For the first couple of games, the Mavericks kept their bigs higher on the floor, away from the paint, out of respect for Boston’s 3-point shooting and Porzingis. That opened up driving lanes and Boston was getting into the paint for buckets or, if the defense collapsed on the driver, kick-out passes for open 3s.

Dallas went back to what got them to the Finals, keeping one of their centers — Daniel Gafford or Derrick Lively — near the rim to take away easy buckets, then rotating to shooters at the arc. It worked, the Celtics shot 13-of-33 in the paint in Game 4.

“That’s kind of my job throughout this whole season, to protect the rim,” Lively said, admitting he was more comfortable in this role. “Whenever they’re trying to pull me out from under the rim, that’s when they’re getting their buckets into the paint. So what I’m trying to do is just making sure that I have my defense’s back, making sure we’re in rotations, and making sure that we don’t need to rotate making sure we’re not rotating, making sure we’re just playing man, making sure we’re just being squared, and just playing straight up defense.”

Boston will adjust in Game 5, which could mean more 3s (this is where the Celtics miss Porzingis and his shooting). If the Celtics can make the Mavericks pay for keeping a man deep, the party in Boston on Monday will go deep into the night.

3) How does Kyrie Irving respond back in Boston

Luka Doncic played his best game of the series in Game 4, and he’s going to bring it in Game 5. Jaylen Brown is the frontrunner for the Finals MVP, and Jayson Tatum is second on that list. Expect big nights from them.

What about Kyrie Irving?

The lightning rod of frustration by Celtics fans — booed every time he touched the ball — Irving struggled in the first two games in Boston, averaging 14 points a night on 35.1% shooting. (For comparison, in Games 3 and 4 in Dallas he doubled that to 28 points a night.)

“I mean, let’s just call it what it is. When the fans are cheering, ‘Kyrie sucks,’ they feel like they have a psychological edge, and that’s fair,” Irving said. “Of course, if I’m not making shots or turning the ball over, that makes it even more of a pressing issue that they can stay on me for.

“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 and being human through this experience, too, and telling them how I feel.”

Irving has been open about his two seasons in Boston during this series, admitting mistakes and the personal issues he was going through at the time. That’s
not earning him any sympathy from Boston fans.

If there is going to be a Game 6, if Dallas is going to make this a real series, it will take a big night from Irving on the road. He will be back in the spotlight, one way or another.