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The returning stars who could decide NBA Championship

By BBC
Basketball GETTY IMAGES

Image caption: Watch the first match of the NBA Finals live - the Boston Celtics take on the Dallas Mavericks in the early hours of Friday morning (UK only, 01:30 BST) on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, and the BBC Sport website and app
THU, 06 JUN 2024 LISTEN
GETTY IMAGES Image caption: Watch the first match of the NBA Finals live - the Boston Celtics take on the Dallas Mavericks in the early hours of Friday morning (UK only, 01:30 BST) on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, and the BBC Sport website and app

As the curtain rises on the opening game of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks, two players will face their former sides in the hope of lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Former Maverick Kristaps Porzingis is aiming to end Boston's championship drought that dates back to 2008. He faces a Dallas side who last tasted glory in 2011.

And the Mavericks have former Celtic Kyrie Irving, part of a dynamic Dallas backcourt that secured a Finals spot with a blend of finesse and grit.

It will be a culmination of a season's worth of blood, sweat, and tears - made even spicier by the two returning stars.

The Celtics' 'Unicorn'
The Boston Celtics have endured 16 years of near-misses, what-ifs and heartbreaking close encounters, moments that have conditioned their fans to brace for the worst.

However, as they gear up for their second Finals appearance in two years, the C's now have arguably their best chance to finally get it done, courtesy of Porzingis.

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Kristaps Porzingis was drafted number four by the New York Knicks in 2015

In June last year, the Celtics made a bold, game-changing decision: trading away guard Marcus Smart in a three-team deal to get centre Porzingis from the Washington Wizards.

This unexpected move sent shockwaves through the fanbase. Smart was the heart of the team, he even dyed his hair green. It was a move that signalled Boston's all-in approach to clinching the title.

Porzingis never clicked alongside superstar Luka Doncic during his time at Dallas, but his development since leaving in 2022 could come back to haunt them as he returns from injury after missing the play-offs so far.

The 28-year-old is dubbed 'The Unicorn' for his versatile skill set and shooting prowess and could be the X-factor in this best-of-seven series.

Porzingis, because of his shooting, will force Dallas into having to defend the perimeter a lot more.

It's a defensive scheme they haven't frequently employed so far in the play-offs and his presence behind the arc will create space for stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to exploit, potentially stretching the Mavericks.

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Porzingis spent three years in Dallas, playing alongside Luka Doncic in his rookie season

The Celtics have lost only two games in the play-offs, beating both the injury-depleted Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1, before dominating the Indiana Pacers with a 4-0 sweep in the Eastern Conference finals.

With the league's best regular-season record and arguably the strongest, most balanced starting five, the Celtics, under head coach Joe Mazzulla, might have finally assembled the perfect formula for championship success.

  • A maverick returns to Boston

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Kyrie Irving played in Boston for two years before leaving to join the Brooklyn Nets

For Dallas, all eyes will be not only on how Doncic fares in his first Finals, but also on the controversial return of Irving.

Irving, one of the league's most enigmatic and electrifying players, has a well-documented and tumultuous past with the Celtics.

His departure from Boston in 2019 left a sour taste for many fans, who he'd initially told he would sign a new deal, before his relationship with the organisation worsened, ending with a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.

This series offers Irving a chance for redemption, not just in silencing the critics in Boston but in showcasing to the world that he can get the job done without LeBron James beside him - the accusation that has hung over him since his 2016 championship win with Cleveland.

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Kyrie Irving joined Dallas in February 2023

The 32-year-old's ball-handling wizardry, scoring ability and clutch performances are undeniable. With Doncic, he forms one of the most formidable backcourts in recent memory.

Doncic has already cemented himself as a generational talent. His vision, court awareness and prolific scoring make him a nightmare for any defence.

For Irving, this series is more than just a shot at a title, it's a chance to rewrite his narrative and cement his legacy in a city that once spurned him. For Doncic, it's an opportunity to elevate his burgeoning career to historic heights.

Despite their defensive strengths, Boston will have their coverages tested as they attempt to manage Irving's explosive drives and Doncic's deadly shooting.

The Mavericks, under head coach Jason Kidd, have had a tougher play-off run than Boston, overcoming the LA Clippers, top seeds the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But that resilience should serve them well against an elite Celtics team. If their two-star guards can impose their will and maintain their high levels, the Mavericks have the potential to bring it home.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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