Jayson Tatum is questionable heading into the Boston Celtics contest against the Dallas Mavericks, but that won’t stop Boston from approaching the game with a view to victory, and the mindset of getting back in the win column at the first time of asking.
Still, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks are no joke. Inconsistent, but no joke. As such, the Celtics will need to bring their A-game, both offensively and defensively, otherwise, they could be in for a long night. Still, there are always areas to attack, and areas to give extra attention to.
With all that being said, here are my three tickets to triumph.
Get back to driving the ball
The Celtics are at their best when they’re driving the ball into the teeth of the defense, forcing rotations before finding the open man to begin the ball rotation around the perimeter. Against a Mavericks team that ranks 21st in the NBA for defending their rim, Boston should have no problem with applying pressure.
Of course, once that pressure is on, you have to make the right decision — something that the Celtics have thrived at throughout the young season. Boston is averaging 46.2 drives per game, but they might want to give that a little boost for Wednesday’s contest because if you can get the Mavericks collapsing on defense, there’s going to be plenty of shooting opportunities coming your way from the perimeter.
I’d expect Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown to be tearing into the Mavericks’ defense tonight and hope that Joe Mazzulla will look to feed Brown on stampede cuts toward the rim.
Let Luka be Luka
Whenever you’re facing one of the elite players in the NBA, the narrative quickly becomes ‘how do we stop them’ — I prefer to look at things through a different lens. Let’s face it, guys like Luka Doncic can’t be stopped, and can seldom be contained. So, let Luka be Luka and focus on limiting the players around him.
We know that Luka likes to have the rock and is sometimes a little too happy to pound the air out of the ball. We also know that he can’t score all the necessary points to push the Mavericks to a W. By limiting the players around him, Luka will take on a higher-than-normal usage rate and will begin to fade down the stretch (hopefully).
If you can take away Tim Hardaway Jr.’s catch-and-shoot threat, deny Dorian Finney-Smith, pressure Reggie Bullock and Spencer Dinwiddie, and then go to work on their second unit, you should be in a good position come crunch time. Of course, Luka is going to get his, however, even if you send all the defensive attention his way, that’s still going to happen. So, it’s better to force him to beat you alone, than allow his teammates to get in on the action.
Protect the Perimeter
According to Cleaning The Glass, the Mavericks are 3rd in the NBA in three-point attempts per game, with it accounting for 40.8% of their total offense. Furthermore, no team takes more corner 3’s than Dallas.
Boston has done a good job of deterring teams from attacking the corner 3 this season, ranking 2nd in the league for minimizing corner attempts, allowing just 6.1 per game. So, this will be an interesting tipping point for Wednesday’s game — can the Celtics force Dallas to abandon their usual game plan, or will Boston concede some additional shots from the corners if it means they can rip and run off any missed shots?
And just how comfortable will Mazzulla be in letting Dallas jack up perimeter three after perimeter three? Will he trust his defense, or ask them to run shooters off their line and live with the interior battle that could follow? Who dictates the three-point attempts in Boston’s half-court will certainly be a game within a game, that’s for sure.
At the time of writing, we’ve still had no word on whether Tatum is going to participate in Wednesday’s game, and obviously, his presence could be a significant swing factor. However, the talk on Twitter is that Dallas tends to lower their performance levels when the opposing team’s best player is available, but I’m not sure how true that is, or if it’s a narrative that’s been formulated after a tough loss.
Either way, the Mavericks are a formidable opponent, and the Celtics will have to be much improved from what we saw against the Chicago Bulls if they want to come away from this game with a victory in hand.