In the NBA Finals, Celtics and Mavs face different challenges than what they just overcame

Each NBA playoff series is its own separate event, with no real point of continuity between the end of one and the beginning of the other.

For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated defending champion Denver Nuggets, but that didn't automatically make them kings of the mound; a series against the Dallas Mavericks in the next round presented a very different set of challenges, and the Timberwolves roster was far less able to handle them. Likewise, the courageous fight the Indiana Pacers put up against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals tells us almost nothing about what might happen to Boston in a series against Dallas; aside from the propensity to hire Rick Carlisle, Indiana and Dallas could hardly be less similar.

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That's a crucial piece of knowledge we'll need to retain in the coming days as we explore all possible angles in our extended break before the NBA Finals between the Celtics and Mavericks kicks off on June 6. Dallas has won six of its past seven games, capped by Thursday's elimination of Minnesota, while Boston has won 12 of 14 by double-digit scoring margins.

But using these games as a predictive point for what might happen in the NBA Finals is a fatal mistake: The matchup for both teams will be completely different from what they faced the round before. In that sense, it's probably a good thing that Dallas and Boston have a few days off to recalibrate. The formula for winning in the next round will be radically different.

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Take the Celtics for example, who just wrapped up a series against one of the most extreme teams in basketball and now have to adjust to a very different type of team on both ends. In particular, the Pacers' defensive approach is almost 180 degrees different from Dallas'. The Pacers gave up the fewest three-point attempts in the league this season and were more than willing to allow drives to the rim as long as they closed down the three-point line.

While they did this part imperfectly against the Celtics — Boston still launched 43 triples per game in the conference finals, right in line with season totals — it's still a radically different approach than what Dallas did in the three playoff rounds . The Mavs tried to protect the basket at all costs with rim protectors Dereck Lively II and Daniel Gafford, holding opponents to just 50.2 percent shooting on 2s in the playoffs entering Game 5 against Minnesota.

The Mavs didn't give up a large number of 3s overall, but there was one type they were willing to allow: pick-and-pop 3-pointers from opposing centers. The Clippers and Wolves didn't have the starting personnel to hurt them here, but Dallas had Chet Holmgren and Jaylin Williams firing for the Thunder (42 attempts in six games), while Minnesota backup Naz Reid made 25 three-point attempts in 132 minutes in the conference finals.

Needless to say, this is a very questionable strategy to pursue against the Celtics if Kristaps Porziņģis is healthy (he is expected to return for the NBA Finals). Porziņģis shot 37.5 percent from 3 on more than six attempts per game this season, with many of his attempts coming from several feet beyond the three-point line. By the way, Boston big man Al Horford earned 41.9 percent.

Dallas isn't the only team facing this problem. Keeping rim protectors at the rim has been a vexing question for Boston opponents all season, one that has yielded several original but unsuccessful solutions. For example, Golden State tried to put Draymond Green on Jaylen Brown, keep Green in the paint and challenge Brown to shoot 3s in a March game. Brown made five threes in the first seven minutes and was on pace to break Wilt Chamberlain's scoring record before the Warriors reconsidered.

I was at that game, and my column from that weekend delves into the unique dilemmas posed by Boston's superior shooting at every position. The short version: Teams that strive to take away 3s and live with basket attacks, like Indiana, are the only ones that have a chance against the Celtics. Sure, the Pacers gave up points, but they also beat Boston twice in the regular season and left them dead in Game 1 of the conference finals before fate intervened… with a late 3-pointer.

Dallas, on the other hand, has been a mid-tier team in preventing opponent 3s and has played that way again in the playoffs. The Mavs' big conundrum is figuring out how to twist a defensive strategy that was near-optimal for playing the Clippers, Thunder and Wolves and adapt it to playing a very different Boston team. Recent events do not bode well in that regard; When the Mavs marched into Boston in March with all their new trade pieces, they lost 138-110, with Boston shooting 21 of 43 on 3s.

However, the Celtics have some adjustments to make of their own. While Indiana ran the ball down their throat every possible chance with whoever had the rock, Dallas plays a much slower and more heliocentric style. Yes, the Mavs will run opportunistically, but compared to playing the Pacers it will feel like going from a techno rave to Gregorian chants.

Furthermore, the player in charge for Dallas is possibly the best offensive player in the league, and he's operating against a defense that essentially has one weakness: not really being able to switch between five positions. We saw how that played out for Minnesota, the league's top-ranked defense. Can the Celtics really survive series drop coverage against 40-plus minutes from Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving? Or should they feel uncomfortable?

While the Celtics have more roster options (they might put Porziņģis on Derrick Jones Jr. to switch against Dallas' pick-and-roll game with Lively and Gafford, for example) and two All-Defense guards in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White , Dončić has seen and sifted through every report.

There's obviously a lot more to unpack here: Porziņģis and Irving's revenge series! Luka's first NBA Finals! Jayson Tatum's chance at redemption! Reflections on the Grant Williams era! We'll have plenty of time to do everything, but it almost seems like a relief that these teams have interlude before this final round. They need it all for a complete tactical innovation.


Required reading

(Photo of Luka Dončić and Al Horford: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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