NBA Finals: Game 2 Notebook

You can make a good argument that Boston’s 105-98 win to take a 2-0 series lead over Dallas was the most impressive of the 14 wins the Celtics have gotten in the playoffs. Yes, there have been several others that were more dominating, including their Game 1 blowout. But in a spot where Boston has shown a tendency to let down, and where the Mavericks threw a hard opening punch, the Celtics weathered the storm and got it done.

Jrue Holiday has been the underrated hero for Boston all year. He plays glove-like defense, makes hustle plays, distributes the ball, and gets tough rebounds. On Sunday night in the Garden, he got the limelight. Holiday was 11-for-14 from the floor and led Celtic scorers with 26 points.

And all those other little things he does? Holiday still got 11 rebounds. He still had a lot of defensive responsibility for Kyrie Irving, and Kyrie had another miserable game. And Holiday still got a couple key offensive rebounds during a big Boston surge in the third quarter that got them some breathing room.

Luka Doncic did everything he could for the Mavs, dropping a 32/11/11 line. Moreover, he helped Dallas establish an early tone. Luka knocked down 13 in the first quarter, hitting five of his first seven shots. Kyrie also played well early, scoring 8 of his 16 points, and hitting four of five shots in the opening period. But while Luka continued to play well, Kyrie would fade. And the Celtics, even on a night when they didn’t shoot well, moved into a narrow three-point lead by halftime.

The third quarter saw Boston extend the lead as far out as 80-67, and while Dallas did continue to hang in there, that was really the surge that couldn’t be overcome. It was during this stretch that the Celtics really got aggressive on the offensive end. Every possession saw someone taking the ball to the basket. Even if the ball eventually ended up behind the arc, none of the three-pointers taken were “settle” shots. They were the byproduct of aggression.

That aggression was further underscored by Boston’s offensive glass crashing in the third quarter. While the Celtics were narrowly outrebounded on the night, 43-41, they had a 10-9 edge in the area of offensive boards. Four of those came in the big third quarter run and two of them were from Holiday. During this same stretch, the Mavs were curiously passive on the offensive glass, as the Celtics closed out one-and-done possessions with no real duress.

Boston also got a nice night from Derick White. He scored 18 points and hit four consequential treys. One of them came in the second quarter to give the Celts their first lead. Two of them came in the fourth quarter as Boston pushed back the last Dallas comeback bid.

For the Celtics, this series has gone as they might have hoped when we mapped it out here on Thursday morning—you can let Luka get his numbers, but you need to keep Kyrie contained, and you can’t let the rebounders start crashing the offensive glass. Boston’s done that. That’s why, even with Jayson Tatum shooting poorly, they’ve held serve at home.

Role players, like Dallas relies upon in its frontcourt, are often better at home than on the road. That’s what the Mavs are banking on as they try to make this a series on Wednesday and Friday night.