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NBA Finals predictions: Can Jayson Tatum lead Celtics to glory?

by News7

The 2024 NBA Finals tip-off on Thursday with the Boston Celtics hosting the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden for Game 1.

Ahead of the star-studded series, we asked FOX Sports’ panel of NBA reporters — Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman — to make their predictions for the Finals winner and MVP. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Make your case for the Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA Finals

Yaron: They have the best player in the series in Luka Doncic. Not only is he the best player, but he’s a star for whom there’s no defense. Add in the way Kyrie Irving is playing, plus the Mavs’ newfound stud defense, and you have an obvious recipe for a title. 

Melissa:  Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have really found their rhythm together. They’re fearless in crunch time. And they have an outstanding defensive presence alongside them. Doncic is hungry for his first championship and Irving knows what it takes to win one after winning a title with Cleveland in 2016 alongside LeBron James.. If I were a betting person, there’s no team I’d trust more with the game on the line. 

Ric: As one anonymous GM said to me recently, “They’re either the best team in basketball or on an epic heater.” Either way, they come in with a ton of momentum. I also like the way they match up defensively against the Celtics — Derrick Jones Jr. and P.J. Washington are fully capable of guarding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and the Daniel Gafford/Dereck Lively II combo is athletic enough to stay with Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavs’ offense, having just had its way with the Timberwolves’ No. 1 defense, needs no explanation.

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Yaron: They’ve been the best team all season, and it wasn’t even close. They outscored opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-best scoring margin of all time and the difference between their point differential and that of the No. 2 ranked Denver Nuggets was nearly equal to the difference between the Nuggets and the No. 20 ranked Chicago Bulls. This is a dominant squad loaded with elite two-way talent.

Melissa: Aside from them being the top-rated offense and the second-rated defense this season, they undoubtedly have the “want” factor. After reaching the 2022 Finals and then falling to the Golden State Warriors, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are hungry to finish what they failed to accomplish two years ago. They know how hard it is to reach the Finals, after losing to Miami in seven games in the 2023 Eastern Conference finals. And now that they’re back here again, they’re not going to want to squander this opportunity.

Ric: Despite all their dominance, they’re still being doubted, which should be a powerful motivator. That they rolled through the playoffs despite missing Porzingis says a lot about how Brown, Tatum, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday meshed and were able to compensate for his absence.

3. If the Mavericks win the NBA Finals, who is going to win Finals MVP?

Yaron: I guess Kyrie has a shot, but if the Mavericks win, it’s going to be because of Luca. They’ll go as far as he takes them. 

Melissa: Luka Doncic. He has been the team’s motor and I expect him to pour his heart out in these Finals. 

Ric: The voters, who are asked to fill out their ballots in the final minutes of the closeout game, invariably go with the player who has the gaudiest statistics and that is almost certain to be Luka. But what if Kyrie goes nuclear in the fourth quarter of the final game to win it? That’s a possibility and that’s probably what it would take for him to beat out Luka. 

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Yaron: This is more interesting. Obviously, Jayson Tatum would be the favorite, followed closely by Jaylen Brown. But don’t sleep on Derrick White, either. He’s been great all season. 

Melissa: Jayson Tatum. If the Celtics win this, Tatum will have to play his best basketball. 

Ric: Having seen Andre Iguodala get it for the Warriors for, in part, his work defending LeBron James, there’s a world in which Jrue Holiday or whoever guards Luka has a shot at it. But I don’t see Boston winning the series unless Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are what they’ve been to date in the playoffs — and that’s with Brown showing the form that earned him the Eastern Conference finals MVP award. So I’d put my money on Brown. 

5. Who do you think is going to win the NBA Finals and why?

Yaron: Mavericks in 7. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with this one, and I genuinely believe it’s a toss up. To me, however, Luka is too good to pick against. The Celtics might have the depth and a roster built to make him work. But I don’t think there’s any stopping him, especially not when he’s playing in an ecosystem tailored to accentuating his strengths. The Mavericks have everything — an elite secondary scorer and playmaker. Three-point shooters. Dangerous rim-runners and lob-catchers. Having Luka surrounded by all that just feels unfair.

Melissa: Mavericks in 6. After watching this team’s confidence and the way it handled pressure against the Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s hard for me to imagine this team losing right now. Luka and Kyrie alternate picking up the slack if one of them is struggling offensively. They’re both unflappable in the biggest of moments. The Mavericks’ defense is elite. They’re clicking on all cylinders at the perfect time, peaking late season and into the playoffs. This team is going to be tough to beat. 

Ric: How I wish I could answer this after the first game, because the return of Kristaps Porzingis is a major wrinkle in my belief in the Mavs. I will stick with the Mavs in six, under the assumption that the month off is going to have an impact on Porzingis the same way it did on Joel Embiid. And I still have trouble believing the Celtics offensively aren’t in for a rude awakening against this much-improved Dallas defense. The net playoff ratings for the teams Boston and Dallas had to go through are starkly different. The Celtics played the sixth, 12th and 16th-rated teams. The Mavs beat the second, fourth and 13th.

‘It’s double trouble for the Boston Celtics.’ — Skip is picking the Mavericks in 7 Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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