Boston must contain Dallas' pick-and-roll
The Mavericks shredded the Celtics last February by making heavy use of the high pick-and-roll. Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Jose Calderon, Brandan Wright, and Samuel Dalembert were all but unstoppable in the second half, as the Mavs scored 43 points on 37 pick-and-rolls.
So far, Dallas has the best offense in the NBA, with a league-leading 118.8 offensive rating, With a new and improved pick-and-roll attack, featuring Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons, and Jameer Nelson, the Mavs are even more lethal.
But with a more aggressive defensive system and better personnel, Boston might have a chance at containing Dallas. Undoubtedly, slowing down their pick-and-roll is the key to victory.
Still, who defends Dirk? After all, the future Hall of Famer is the primary force utilized in their dominant pick-and-roll attack.
Last year, Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass were the players tasked with defending Dirk, but with Humphries out of town and Bass seeing far fewer minutes per game, someone else will see the bulk of the responsibility.
That player will probably be Kelly Olynyk, who idolized Dirk as young kid growing up in Canada. Even though Olynyk's lateral quickness still leaves a lot to be desired, he seems better suited for the job than Jared Sullinger, who would be better off matching up against Tyson Chandler, a massive load to handle on the roll.
While it'll take a committee of bigs to stop Dirk, KO will need to play the defensive game of his life to help Boston win in Dallas. And if he struggles, don't be too surprised if Bass sees a season-high in minutes, largely due to his skill defensively.
Rajon Rondo must control the pace
Boston is second in the league with a 102.8 pace (possessions per 48 minutes), and Dallas is 27th, with a 93.0 pace. If the Mavericks manage to turn this into a ground-and-pound, slow-paced affair, then it plays heavily into their favor, but if the Celtics can create transition opportunities, then they'll have the edge.
It'll be crucial for point guard Rajon Rondo to get back to his style from game one against Brooklyn, when he showcased an aptitude to succeed in Brad Stevens' motion offense. In game two versus Houston, Rondo walked the ball up the floor more frequently, which would play right into Dallas' hands. That is not to say Rondo played a poor game, but he was not clicking on all cylinders.
However, bumps in the road should be expected from Rondo, since he has been conditioned to slow it down in Doc Rivers' offense the past eight years. Live-game action is what Rondo needs to shake off the rust and get adjusted to playing in Stevens' fresh system.
But Rondo can't control everything. Overall, the Celtics must do a better job of playing with pace. Against Houston, they had just two secondary assists and no free throw assists, according to SportVU, when they had six combined against Brooklyn. For a team that preaches unselfish ball-movement, a goose egg in the "free throw assists" column is unacceptable.
Prepare for a three-point onslaught
Boston had a 1-for-25 three-point shooting brick-fest against Houston on Saturday, but will get an opportunity to bounce back tonight against Dallas. The Mavericks allow 27.3 three-point attempts per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA, and opponents are shooting 42.9 percent, which ranks fifth.
The Mavericks rank 27th in defensive rating, at 109.1, so there could be a lot of points scored in this game. Though it's early in the season, and their defense is probably better than it has been statistically, there is no doubt they are a superior interior defense due to Chandler's presence. As a byproduct, more three-point attempts are bound to occur.
In Dallas' prior three games, wings are shooting a combined 17-for-40 from three. Even though Avery Bradley is only 1-for-7 on the year from downtown, this could be an ideal matchup for him to explode. Look for Boston to try and set him free via off-ball screens and flares. If the streaky Marcus Thornton manages to catch fire, he could also go off.