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The Celtics Are Winning Everywhere

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics attempts to dunk the ball against P.J. Washington #25 of the Dallas Mavericks during the fourth quarter in Game Two of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 09, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The battle for summertime supremacy between the Boston Celtics and their archest of rivals continues today, and yes, you can infer from that sentence that the Dallas Mavericks are not part of the argument any longer.

Based on last night's returns, an uninspiring yet still demonstrative 105-98 Celtics win, the NBA Finals are headed one way. Boston has looked good and won convincingly, and now they have added dull efficiency to this series, and while it may not be wise to bet that this will be over by Friday, it will be equally foolhardy to see it going past next Monday.

Dallas may have the best player (Luka Doncic), but Boston has six of the next seven, and if there is a coaching advantage still to be gleaned, it is that Joe Mazzulla is playing with more players than Jason Kidd. There's more than one reason the Mavs are shooting 24 percent from the three-point arc, 5-for-32 from non-Slovenians, and the most compelling of those is that Boston doesn't allow them clear looks from the right shooters. Kyrie Irving is 13-of-37 and 0-of-8 from three, and he is Dallas' second-best offensive player. If the Mavs aren't cooked, they're searing evenly on both sides and a couple more minutes will have them ready for plating.

But about that rival? You know them as the Los Angeles Lakers and they have been conducting a rear-guard battle for attention with the Finals with their barely organized and sometimes baffling attempt to hire a new head coach. A job that is supposed to be elite on historical as well as LeBronian grounds has been vacant for 38 days now, and the organization has been using both the Charania and Wojnarowski headhunting firms to conduct what passes for business.

The tortoise-paced search has reached a point where they are waiting today to see if Dan Hurley prefers them to the University of Connecticut, the devil he knows. This in itself is a comedown for this once-proud-and-still-smug franchise used to getting what and who they want with a single come-hither look. The college game is becoming a hot mess as adults used to employing athletes without the burdens of compensation struggle with a new world order, and the Lakers, we are told, are still the Lakers, though based on their past decade that is hardly an effective advertising slogan.

They are apparently all-in on Hurley and hoping that the reverse is true. They are so all-in that Woj doesn't even bother to mention JJ Redick's candidacy any more and Shams is running quiet on the story as his chosen stalking horse, Redick, seems to be yesterday's scoop.

If Hurley accepts the job and becomes the franchise's eighth coach in 12 years, the battle is over and the Celtics have won all the titles, including the one for being the last item on the agenda. Their performance against Dallas last night was hard on the casual eye because their shooting was substandard, but they held the Mavs to Doncic, which is to say that neither Kyrie Irving nor anyone else contributed much to his 32-11-11 night. The game looked debatable for awhile, but in hindsight the Mavericks did not lead at any point in the final 23 minutes and did not look dangerous enough to threaten Boston's control in last 18.

The series' last real talking element is whether the Celtics were truly challenged in these playoffs (they weren't) and whether that fact somehow tarnishes their season story (it doesn't). The last team to breeze this convincingly through the postseason is Denver way back in 2023 (beating seeds 8, 4, 7 and 8, the least imposing lineup in NBA history), and nobody had any problem with the Nuggets' degree of difficulty.

Moreover, they are doing it not with Jayson Tatum at the lead, but Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holliday, and Derrick White. The notion that Mazzulla is somehow not a good coach is being refuted by the fact that he not only hasn't wrecked Brad Stevens's roster but has it sold on playing a smothering defense on nearly every possession. They think Mazzulla is good enough to play hard for, and that ought to be sufficient for the rest of us.

In other words, the Celtics are whipping up on every team placed before them, including the team they are most often linked with historically. In the absence of any convincing rebuttal from the Mavs, there seems only to be the Lakers and their pursuit of Hurley, who seems at first glance to be an odd fit for all the things the franchise stands for: flash, splash and crash. They are entering the final days of the LeBron bandaid, and the notion that a new coach, and a college coach with a flinty and distinctly East Coast exterior at that, will not only save but invigorate them flies in the face of the fact that the last coach they had who lasted more than three years was dating the owner.

Thus, the argument that the Celtics didn't have to confront anyone to win their title is further debunked (I mean, they didn't make up the schedule), especially if you include the specter of the Lakers. If Hurley takes the gig, and the betting right now is even money, the Celtics will have outlasted even them on center stage. But if he finds that the glamour of downtown Storrs to be too compelling to abandon, then the Lakers will have lost to the Celtics in a different way and been revealed as the empty suit they have they have been since 2013, and will have to call up Shams and Woj and say, "Quick, we need another name." That is, if they don't just surrender, go back to Redick or J.B. Bickerstaff, or make a run at un-gettables like Tom Thibodeau, Erik Spoelstra or Steve Kerr, and admit that this latest offseason was one more dry well in an ongoing series of them. If that doesn't make this a great season even in a Bird-era Celtic fan's heart, then there's no pleasing them ever again.

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