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Setting The Pick: NBA Finals Game 1 overreactions


Boston took care of business like they’ve been here before.

After a 10-day break between series, the Celtics raced out to a convincing knockout in the opening tilt.

If you’ve read my columns in the past, I always caution betting too heavily on Game 1s.

Regardless of the predictions you have for a series, it’s near impossible to know exactly what gameplan is being chalked up by both coaching staffs before they take to the court.

Kristaps Porzingis coming off the bench only became public knowledge hours before tip-off.

Questions remained about who’d primarily defend Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

While it’s always prudent to stick to your guns and not overreact to opening games of a series, there are some takeaways from Game 1 that may be worth acting on.

Here are three things that caught my eye on Thursday night.


One dime for Doncic?

When all was said and done, there seemed to be something wrong with the box score as it logged just one assist for the Slovenian.

Doncic has never registered fewer than two assists in his playoff career or during the regular season this year.

But credit is due to the Celtics. They were draped all over him in Game 1. Every time he’d bring the ball up, they actively switched and minimized any advantages created off his pick-and-rolls.

Alley-oops have been a core part of the Mavericks’ offence during this playoff run and Doncic wasn’t able to involve either of his rim-runners – Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II.

In fact, Doncic didn’t even register a single dime in the halfcourt; his lone assist was to P.J. Washington in a transition play off a turnover.

Watching back on his possessions, it was clear that Boston’s gameplan was to stick tight to whoever the screener was for Doncic – whether the matchup was switched or not.

Of his 14 missed shots, at least four to five of them were looks he’d make under normal circumstances.

I can’t say for sure whether Boston will stick to this defensive game plan. If Doncic starts hitting everything, it’ll open up how they defend.

But for the time being, I can’t ignore the fact he only registered seven potential assists in Game 1 (passes that led to a field-goal attempt, make or miss).

The typical ratio for assists to potential assists is 60 per cent.

To go over his 8.5 assist prop on FanDuel, he’d have to double the number of potentials he had in Game 1.

For now, it seems like Boston is content letting him be a scorer.

The Play – Doncic under 8.5 assists (-148)


Brown’s MVP case tied to the defensive end?

In my last article, I spotlighted how improbable it’d be for the media to anoint Jaylen Brown MVP twice in a row over teammate Jayson Tatum.

I mentioned how Brown would definitively need to outplay Tatum in order for that scenario to play out.

Offensively, their numbers didn’t stray too far in the opener. Defensively, Brown really imprinted his mark on the game.

He was given the critical responsibility of being Doncic’s primary defender and answered the call with three steals and three blocks.

Two of those swipes were clean pick-sixes that he emphatically jammed.

I don’t expect him to be picking Doncic’s pocket every game of this series but his intensity on that end of the court was notable, especially in a game where his teammates were making it rain from deep.

Even though Brown led Boston in scoring, his most important role this series might be neutralizing Doncic defensively.

His six ‘stocks’ tied his playoff career-high, so I wouldn’t go crazy with any alt prop lines.

It’s also worth noting that defensive stats can be extremely volatile.

That said, I’m willing to bet he brings the same defensive energy in Game 2.

The Play – Brown 1+ steal and 1+ block (-410 and -135)


Are Gafford and Lively II becoming obsolete?

One of the major storylines coming into the NBA Finals was Dallas confronting Boston’s five-out offence.

Against the Timberwolves and Clippers, the Mavs faced a traditional big man.

In their matchup versus the Thunder, Chet Holmgren wasn’t used from deep the same way Porzingis and Al Horford are by the Celtics.

During the playoffs, KP and Big Al have attempted 43 and 67 per cent of their field goals from deep.

In Game 1, we saw Boston execute a similar offensive plan as the two bigs combined for just five field-goal attempts at the rim.

As a result of this, Dallas’ rim-running centres have been pulled out onto the perimeter and experienced a steep decline in playing time.

Gafford finished with 14 minutes and Lively II only played 18 after they averaged 24.5 and 21.9 mpg respectively in the Conference Finals.

With this five-out offence, Dallas’ hand looks to be forced; they have to be more agile contesting shots from the perimeter.

It’s certainly a red flag to see Gafford log zero defensive rebounds in Game 1.

Both Gafford and Lively II went under on their rebounding props.

Chances are Boston won’t hit as many shots as they did in the opener, but Dallas’ centres might fall out of favour in exchange for Maxi Kleber, a more agile stretch-four.

The Play – Gafford under 12.5 and Lively II under 13.5 points + rebounds (-115 and -128)