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NBA Finals: How Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are breaking down the Mavs


Jrue Holiday led the Boston Celtics in scoring with 26 points in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday. Asked about his offense in a walk-off interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters, Holiday credited Jayson Tatum, who assisted on seven of his 11 made field goals.

“J.T. was taking it to the basket, they were double-teaming him and he was making the right play,” Holiday said.

In terms of individual scoring efficiency, Tatum wasn’t excellent. He finished with 18 points on 6-for-22 shooting and missed six of his seven 3-point attempts. To Holiday, though, that hardly mattered.

“The way that he played tonight, the way that he led us, getting into the paint, making plays, finding me wide open, it was all about him,” Holiday said.

This is a weird thing to say about a player who is shooting 31.6% from the field through two games, but it appears that Dallas cannot guard Tatum. The same is true of Jaylen Brown, Boston’s other star wing. Over and over in Game 2, Tatum and Brown attacked the Mavs off the dribble, forced them to rotate and created advantages for their teammates. Despite the Celtics shooting just 10 for 39 (25.6%) from 3-point range, Tatum recorded 12 assists, Brown seven.

“We didn’t shoot the ball nowhere near to our standard, but we kept getting to the paint, kept getting great looks,” Brown said in a postgame interview on NBA TV. “All night, I was just trying to create two-on-ones. All night, I was just driving, trying to make the 5 help and then just trusting my teammates on the back side. I gotta take care of the ball a little bit more, but I’ll take those looks. Most games, we’re going to be able to make those.”

While the margin of victory was slimmer than it was in Game 1, the contrast in style of play was just as stark. Dallas, which shot more corner 3s than any other team in the NBA during the regular season primarily because opponents blitzed Luka Doncic more than any other player, went 1-for-5 in the corners on Sunday. Boston’s defense mostly stayed out of rotation, nudging Doncic and Kyrie Irving toward midrange jumpers. On the other side of the floor, it seemed like the Mavericks were constantly in rotation. Their perimeter defenders couldn’t keep the Celtics’ playmakers in front of them, so they had to be in scramble mode.

The scary thing, from Dallas’ perspective, is that there’s no reason it should get any easier defensively when the series shifts to Texas for Games 3 and 4. Boston spent all year taking advantages of cross-matches, hunting mismatches and forcing opponents into impossible decisions because of its spacing. It finished the regular season with the second-most efficient offense in NBA history, and it doesn’t give teams, like the Mavs, who can make up for their stars’ defensive deficiencies against most opponents, anywhere to hide them. Maxi Kleber, the Mavs’ 6-foot-10 reserve big man, has served as their primary defender on Kawhi Leonard in past playoff matchups, and he is their emergency, switch-everything option at center in this one. Here’s Brown roasting him to ice the game on Sunday:

The last time Holiday was in the Finals, as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021, he took 20 shots or more in three of the six games. In his big Game 2 for the Celtics, he shot 11-for-14, following a 4-for-9 showing in the opener. On this team, he no longer has to initiate offense or take bail-out jumpers late in possessions very often, and he’s extremely overqualified for his tertiary playmaking role. Dallas can’t just worry about Tatum and Brown going to work with a spaced floor; it has to worry about Holiday (and Derrick White) making plays after its defense has already been compromised.

“Jayson’s facilitating, Jaylen’s decision-making, that leads to Jrue’s playmaking,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters, “and the way that they’re defending us, we have to make multiple plays. We have to have multiple drives. I think Jrue did a great job — guys did a great job finding him, he did a great job attacking closeouts and then either kicking it back out for a second drive or getting an open shot.”

Postgame, both Doncic and coach Jason Kidd sounded pleased with how the Mavericks defended, but said their offense wasn’t good enough. In the sense that Boston scored just 110.5 points per 100 possessions, far below its usual rate, and Dallas couldn’t take advantage, they are right. It would be dangerous, though, to assume that simply scoring better will get the Mavs the win they so desperately need on Wednesday. If the Mavs can’t stay in front of anybody, they can’t count on the Celtics having another off night.





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