NBA Finals Recap: Future Is Bright for Luka Doncic and the Boston Celtics, But What About the Rest of the NBA?

By Scott Kacsmar

The 2024 NBA Finals are over after the Boston Celtics did what they were favored all year to do by winning their 18th championship. But while it was a disappointing 4-1 defeat for Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, it should be a great learning experience for one of the game’s best young players.

While the NBA playoffs as a whole were not as great as fans had hoped for this season, we are in some historic times for parity in championship-winning teams. For only the second time in NBA history and the first since 1975-80, we have watched six different franchises win championships in the last six seasons. They were all led by a different superstar player too:

  • 2018-19 Toronto Raptors (Kawhi Leonard)
  • 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers (LeBron James)
  • 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo)
  • 2021-22 Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry)
  • 2022-23 Denver Nuggets (Nikola Jokic)
  • 2023-24 Boston Celtics (Jayson Tatum and Finals MVP Jaylen Brown)

The last time this happened, it led into a 1980s decade that was dominated by the Lakers and Celtics thanks to the additions of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. While we await great things from Victor Wembanyama in San Antonio, it looks like 2024-25 and the near future will be bright for these Celtics and Mavericks.

In putting the 2023-24 NBA season to bed, let’s look at the prospects of the Celtics becoming the NBA’s next dynasty, why Doncic should still be favored to win a championship in his career, and some parting thoughts on the state of the league.

Are the Boston Celtics on Track for the Next NBA Dynasty?

Even before the Celtics finished the job to win their first championship since 2008, the questions were out there about the potential of this becoming the NBA’s next dynasty. The oddsmakers have already installed the Celtics (+300 at FanDuel) as the favorite to repeat next season.

A dynasty usually requires winning at least three championships such as the Warriors, who won four titles from 2015-22. In fact, the Celtics would already be on the dynasty cusp had they not lost to the Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals.

The optimism for this group getting it done, especially after they have climbed the mountaintop once, is built on coach Joe Mazzulla bringing a smart, guided approach to this team that has made them better than they were under coaches Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka. They made big changes this year in getting rid of Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, and Robert Williams, and the new pieces fit perfectly to bring this championship home.

The core of the team is signed through at least next season, and the ages of the players are still good at coinciding with their athletic primes. Jayson Tatum (26), Jaylen Brown (28), and Kristaps Porzingis (29) will still be under 30 next season. Porzingis rarely played this postseason due to injury and the team still finished 16-3 in the playoffs.

Derrick White turns 30 in a couple of weeks. Jrue Holiday just turned 34 and was a major addition this year to the defense. Al Horford turned 38 this month and finally won his first championship, so we’ll see if he wants to go for a repeat or retire. The Celtics also have role players who can come off the bench and shoot around 40-42% from 3-point territory such as Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard.

This team has the coaching and talent to keep winning at the highest level. While we should chill on the talk about this being the best team in franchise history, a long history that includes teams led by Bill Russell and Larry Bird, there is no denying the 2023-24 Celtics won the title in a unique way and one that sets a desirable blueprint for the modern NBA.

The Boston Blueprint: Elite 3-Point Shooting and Team Defense

It’s not like Boston lost to Golden State in 2022 and figured they’d try copying their team makeup to get to this point. Remember, the Celtics have been in the playoffs 10 years in a row. They have been to the Eastern Conference Finals six times since 2017, so this has been a long road to get here.

But it is fitting the team lost to Golden State in 2022 since the Warriors are largely responsible for the direction the NBA has gone with teams shooting the 3 at such a high frequency. But so much of that was the exceptional talent of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, two of the most prolific shooters ever. Throw in an all-around talent and defender like Draymond Green, and the Warriors could defend as well as shoot with the best of teams.

The Celtics have come close in the past with Tatum and Brown, but they always came up short in the playoffs. This year, they added Jrue Holiday from the Bucks, a capable shooter and great No. 3 option who already helped Milwaukee to a title in this role in 2021. That worked out great for Boston. So did adding Porzingis even if he was injured for the biggest games of the year. But you could see in Game 1 of the Finals just how effective he can be on a team like this where he only needs to be the No. 3 or No. 4 option on any given night.

Boston’s lineup is deep for both shooting and playing defense, a dream scenario for NBA teams. Things changed with those 2015-16 Warriors, who are infamous for going 73-9 and blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

But that Golden State team was also the first NBA team to make 1,000 3-point shots in a season. Since those 2015-16 Warriors, 70 more teams have eclipsed 1,000 made 3s in the regular season. This season, the Celtics made 1,351 3s, the second most in a season in NBA history and easily the most by a champion.

In the playoffs this year, Boston averaged 14.5 made 3s per game, another record high for a team that won the championship. The scary part is the Celtics shot 36.0% from 3, which was down from 38.8% in the regular season. They didn’t even bring their best stuff and they still cruised through most of the playoffs.

Of the 71 teams to make 1,000 3s in a season, the 2023-24 Celtics have the highest margin of victory at 11.3 points per game. A big reason for that is the efficient shooting, but it is also the way this team plays defense at an elite level. That’s how the Celtics were able to take care of Dallas in five games despite Tatum shooting 38.8% from the field. They held the Mavericks under 100 points in all four wins.

While spamming the 3-point shot has gotten past teams into trouble in the playoffs such as the Rockets and Jazz, Boston’s edges are built on having so many good shooters and defenders at the same time.

That’s why people are talking about a dynasty for this team.

The Usual Pitfalls for the Boston Celtics Achieving a Dynasty

What can stop Boston from pulling this off? The usual pitfalls in the NBA. After all, despite this being the 18th title for the Celtics (most in NBA history), they have only won two championships since 1987.

While Brad Stevens has done a very good job as the general manager of this team, he has some big contracts to work around for the salary cap. He’s already given Brown his huge deal valued at nearly $300 million over five years, and Tatum will be looking for his own mega-deal in two years. That means the window to keep a core of Tatum-Brown-Holiday-Porzingis together may just be these next two years. That doesn’t even consider Derrick White, who will be a free agent in 2025 and could use the extra cash to fix his teeth.

Injuries can always cost a team, and this is an era where we have seen superstar injuries plague the postseason in ways and to lengths we never have before. We’re not just talking about a high-ankle sprain or torn ligament to a star Boston player in the future. It can be the benefit of facing an opponent weakened by injury.

Boston was very lucky in this regard this postseason. They played a total of nine playoff games against teams that were missing their best player due to injury in the Heat without Jimmy Butler (all five games), the Cavaliers without Donovan Mitchel (last two games), and the Pacers without Tyrese Haliburton (last two games). The path would have been tougher had those injuries not been present, but that’s been a big part of the NBA postseason these days.

Keep in mind the Celtics did not have to worry about the Milwaukee Bucks this postseason as Giannis Antetokounmpo was hurt again and missed the whole playoffs. Joel Embiid is seemingly never 100% healthy for the 76ers, who have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2001.

A tougher path to the Finals should be expected of Boston next year, especially when you consider the Knicks were the only 50-win team in the Eastern Conference this past year. It was just a down year for the league.

Also, dynasties typically don’t lose as many big games as the Celtics already have in the Tatum and Brown era. We mentioned this team has been to 6-of-8 Eastern Conference Finals since 2017 and yet it still only has one title to show for it. Tatum was not there yet in 2017, but Brown was on the team that lost to Cleveland that season in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It was just a season ago when the top-seeded Celtics fell behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the bottom-seeded Heat, then lost Game 7 at home in a blowout. The year before that, the Celtics were up 2-1 in the Finals against the Warriors before losing in Game 6 at home. Tatum and Brown shot poorly in both of those season-ending series.

The Celtics could certainly pull off a repeat next year, but the league is getting more unpredictable in part because of the volatility of the 3-point shot this team relies so heavily on. The reason we probably didn’t see Denver in the Finals to challenge Boston for a repeat of its own is because the Nuggets blew a 20-point lead in Game 7 at home against Minnesota in the semifinals.

Boston has a lot of the right stuff for a dynasty, but let’s not act like it didn’t take a lot of good fortune just to secure the first championship of the Tatum and Brown era. Asking for a couple more might be a little greedy.

This isn’t the 1960s or the 1980s for that matter. A dynasty in this era of parity is extra difficult to pull off.

Luka Doncic Will Be Back to the NBA Finals

Well, we know Luka Doncic is never going to be undefeated in the NBA Finals in his career. Teams who fall behind 3-0 in a best-of-7 series are now 0-157 all-time in NBA playoff history.

But despite being far and away the best player in Dallas in the NBA Finals, no player received more criticism in this series than Doncic, who averaged 29.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists.

After Doncic fouled out in the fourth quarter of a critical Game 3, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst ripped him a new one. He cited the way the Celtics attacked Luka on defense, then the way he took careless penalties and complained to officials instead of getting back on defense.

During the Game 5 loss, ABC’s Doris Burke, who called the series, essentially called out Doncic’s conditioning and that it needs to get better for next year. ESPN was also using stats not well known like “Blow-by percentage allowed on drives” to critique Luka’s defensive performance:

Some of these criticisms were very fair and accurate. Doncic does have to get better as a 2-way player for Dallas to win it all, especially against a superior opponent like Boston. He probably should get leaner or stronger so that he can finish these games on a high note and not take bad fouls out of fatigue. These may be hard truths for Doncic, but he had to learn them from this series.

But if you are a Dallas fan, you should be encouraged by this season, and you should believe that Doncic is going to learn the right lessons from this so he can get back someday and win a championship.

In completing his sixth NBA season, Doncic has been historically great to begin his career. He was Rookie of the Year in 2018-19, he’s been first-team All-NBA the last five years, and he just won his first scoring title. Doncic’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 25.7 and his playoff PER is almost identical to that at 25.6, making him one of the most effective performers in regular season and postseason history. Doncic averages just under 31.0 points per game in the playoffs, second only to Michael Jordan (33.45).

Simply put, players who are this statistically dominant tend to win championships in the NBA. That’s just a fact.

There are 10 players who have a career PER of at least 25.0 and all 10 of them won at least one NBA championship. All of them except for Bob Pettit, who played when the league had 8 teams, didn’t win a title until Year 7 or later in their career.

Doncic is only 25 years old, and his career PER is 25.7. He doesn’t officially rank yet because he doesn’t have enough games played, but he is close to being No. 8 on that list.

While Doncic has not won an NBA MVP yet, he had his highest finish yet in that race at No. 3 this year. Of the 36 players to win MVP, 28 of them have won a championship (77.8%). Of those 28 champions, 17 of them did not win a title until Year 7 or later, including arguably the best to ever do it in Michael Jordan (7th season), Wilt Chamberlain (8th season), and LeBron James (9th season).

The longest any MVP and Finals MVP winner had to wait to win a championship was another Dallas legend in Dirk Nowitzki, who finally pulled it off in his 13th season in 2010-11 at age 32.

But if the Mavericks can put a better team around Doncic, then he shouldn’t have to wait that long. The team building around Doncic in Dallas has been questionable to say the least. We can also question if Jason Kidd is the right coach for the job.

The fact is the best player the Mavericks put around Doncic before 2023 was Kristaps Porzingis, who had a reputation in Dallas for being soft and unreliable. He wasn’t nearly as dominant looking as the player he looked like in Game 1 of the Finals for Boston before he was injured in Game 2.

The Mavericks also had Jalen Brunson, but he only averaged 16.3 points per game in his best season with Dallas. He played in Doncic’s shadow and was not yet the great player he’s been for the Knicks since he left Dallas, which would have had to pay him a huge contract in addition to paying Doncic.

Dallas opted to acquire Kyrie Irving instead last season. While we saw how great that duo can work together like in the Minnesota series, Irving was a massive disappointment in the Finals, especially in the three games played in Boston. He only averaged 19.8 points and shot 41.4% from the field in the Finals.

When you are a 2-man team like the Mavericks, that’s not going to get the job done when your sidekick has a series like that. Dallas’ third-leading scorer in the series was P.J. Washington, who only averaged 10.8 points per game. You’re not going to win a playoff series against a team like Boston with players like Washington, Daniel Gafford, Derrick Jones Jr., and Dereck Lively vying to be your third-best player while your No. 2 struggles this much.

Comparatively speaking, the Mavericks were putting better teams around a young Nowitzki when he played with the likes of Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, and Jason Terry than they have for Doncic so far.

But there is no sense in writing Doncic off from winning a championship. Just look at the cases of Tatum and Brown, who many were saying needed to be split apart last year if the Celtics were going to win a championship. They kept coming up short, lost their first Finals to the Warriors in 2022, and they lost at home to the No. 8 seed (Heat) last year).

They got the help they needed in Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis as well as the continued development of Derrick White. That’s a complete team now. The Mavericks need to build up the same for Doncic.

Doncic had a better NBA Finals than LeBron James had in 2007 and 2011, his first two trips to the Finals. He can do this, and it’s reassuring that he has already led flawed teams to the Western Conference Finals twice and the NBA Finals once.

But he needs more help than he’s received so far. Until that help comes, he is going to hold onto the title of best active player without a championship. For Dallas’ sake, let’s hope he doesn’t go down the path of being the best to never win a championship. Of the 26 players to be named first-team All-NBA at least five times, the only ones without a championship are Doncic, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, James Harden, Charles Barkley, and George Gervin.

On the plus side, only 15 players have been named first-team All-NBA at least four times in their first six seasons. Thirteen of them won a championship and the other two are Doncic and Elgin Baylor.

You have to believe he’ll come back stronger from this defeat.

Thoughts on the Current State of the NBA

With another NBA season in the books, there is a growing fan resentment that the product is not in a good place, and it could stand to get worse once legends like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant retire. Many tweets on Monday night called this the worst NBA Finals they’ve ever seen.

It’s the culmination of a season with a predictable champion, a postseason filled with blowouts, more big-name injuries watering down the matchups, and an NBA Finals where we seemingly waited many days between games only for 3-of-5 of them to end in massive blowouts.

With this year’s incoming draft class expected to be one of the weakest in history, the NBA finds itself in a delicate position as the No. 2 league in American sports behind the NFL. That gap will only increase if the NBA doesn’t start picking things up soon.

Mainstream Media Is Failing the NBA Right Now

Media coverage is simply not helping the NBA product right now. ESPN is spending too much time showing Stephen A. Smith walking to the game as if he’s a player and giving airtime to personal grudges rather than analysis of the games. Also, the league’s new media deal means next season will be the last for the wonderful TNT crew, and Charles Barkley said he is retiring from TV broadcasting after next season.

It did not help that the league made us wait a whole week between the Conference Finals, which were almost both sweeps and the NBA Finals. Then the decision not to have a game over the weekend was also a curious call by the league.

Ratings were down for the NBA playoffs and particularly the NBA Finals this year, and fans pointed out the disastrous halftime show of Game 1 that was almost all commercials. ABC’s new commentating trio of Mike Breen, JJ Redick, and Doris Burke had no chemistry together, leaving fans longing for the days of Jeff Van Gundy bickering with Mark Jackson.

Sometimes, you don’t know how good you had it until it’s gone.

What’s Different About the New NBA Superstars?

The fact is the NBA has long been a star-driven league. It has had things on easy street since the 1980s with the arrivals of Magic and Bird, then the Michael Jordan era, which gave way to Shaq and Kobe, followed by the phenom that was LeBron James in 2003. Then we’ve seen the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry pave the way for a new generation of shot makers.

While Jayson Tatum just won his first NBA championship, most would probably agree that the best players right now are Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid. The next star in waiting is Victor Wembanyama, the most-hyped prospect since LeBron and the reigning Rookie of the Year.

That’s a uniquely talented group of five players, but they are not without their faults.

Wemby is very young and stuck on a bad team for the time being. Giannis and Embiid are often injured come playoff time, so we rarely ever see their true talent realized in the biggest games and the biggest stages outside of the 2021 Finals for Antetokounmpo.

Jokic and Doncic can do incredible things as triple-double threats on a nightly basis. But they don’t pass the eye test for many. They look like guys who would take on Joey Chestnut in a hot dog eating contest more than they do the next NBA champions. We mentioned Doncic’s conditioning being under attack by the media earlier. Jokic, a 3-time MVP, has especially leaned into his carefree personality where basketball is just his job, and his true passions are with awkward dancing and his beloved horses:

But what else do Wemby, Embiid, Giannis, Jokic, and Doncic all have in common? None of them are from America, and that could be part of the reason people are slow to accept them as the new faces of the league.

This is not to accuse NBA fans and media of being xenophobic, but there is a tendency to have a bias towards players who are from your country and who you may have followed in college before they went pro. After all, we just saw Sunday at the U.S. Open golf tournament a group of ridiculous fans erupting into “USA!” chants after Irish golfer Rory McIlroy blew the final hole and lost.

American players like Bird, Magic, Jordan, Barkley, and Curry have been very marketable and visible in commercials for big corporations over the years. We don’t see nearly as much of that with this new group despite their talents on the court and the way they can be humorous and pleasant off it. Anfernee Hardaway wasn’t even the best player on his own team in Orlando, yet his “Lil Penny” commercials in the 1990s were always on TV. Where is that type of marketing campaign for the current players?

That’s just something to keep in mind about what’s different with this new group of superstars. You would hope people wouldn’t hold any prejudices like that in 2024, but if you’ve been following any of the racially-charged WNBA drama with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, then you know how people act.

But compared to the current WNBA, the NBA looks like it has achieved world peace.

Where Does the NBA Go from Here?

As for the on-court stuff teams and players can control, it comes down to availability and putting a better team around these players so that they can flourish and reach their full potential.

Players like Giannis and Embiid (as well as Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson, etc.) know they have to stay healthy and be there for their teams in the postseason. This has just been an unusually rough decade for injuries come playoff time in the NBA. That hopefully will not continue.

But building a better team around the superstar is something that must be done. We have known for decades that you really need some sort of “Big 3” or “Big 4” to win a championship as most NBA teams had since the 1980s. It would be silly to suggest past legends were getting it done with just a sidekick or little help around them:

  • While Magic and Bird were the headliners, the Lakers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy) and Celtics (Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson) had excellent rosters around them for those epic battles in the 1980s as well as great head coaches (Pat Riley and Red Auerbach).
  • Jordan started winning championships in Chicago (1991-98) once he got Phil Jackson as his coach and Scottie Pippen as his No. 2. Then the Bulls had another three-peat after they added an elite defender in Dennis Rodman and a great 3-point shooter like Steve Kerr.
  • Jackson again struck three-peat gold in Los Angeles (2000-02) when he got the elite duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and paired them with some clutch role players like Derek Fisher and Robert Horry.
  • The San Antonio Spurs thrived for years under coach Greg Popovich with his Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Then they later added Kawhi Leonard to the mix.
  • The previous Boston team to win a championship in 2008 really kicked off the “super team” craze in the NBA when it paired Paul Pierce with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and won it all right away.
  • That led to the Lakers to load up on size and defense in 2010 by surrounding Bryant with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Metta World Peace.
  • The Boston move also led to LeBron James leaving Cleveland to join Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in Miami to win multiple championships in 2012-13.
  • After LeBron went back to Cleveland, the team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was in a 1-1 stalemate in the Finals with Golden State’s trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
  • The blown 3-1 lead in 2016 led to the Warriors recruiting Kevin Durant, which allowed them to win the next two championships in 2017-18, which would be the only titles in Durant’s career.

But since 2019, super team pairings have crashed and burned in large part due to injuries. These team-up attempts involving players like Durant, Leonard, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving have not been able to get their teams to the top of the mountain.

Instead, we’ve seen some yeoman’s work from Kawhi (2019 Raptors) and Giannis (2021 Bucks) to lift teams to championships who had to survive some sticky Game 7 situations and overcome some 2-0 series holes. Still, at least Leonard was working with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Serge Ibaka. Giannis had Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday in 2021.

The Lakers were able to win in the 2020 bubble largely on the backs of LeBron and Anthony Davis. The Nuggets also won in 2023 with the duo of Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way. However, both teams benefitted from drawing the scrappy Miami Heat, who got there as a low seed after some huge upsets, including taking out the Bucks and Giannis both years.

The Warriors won in 2022 despite the core around Curry showing its age as Thompson and Green are past their prime. But they got good contributions that year from Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole in the playoffs, and it also helped when Ja Morant was injured in the semifinal series.

The last six years look out of place with most of modern NBA history as you can now win a championship without a stacked team under the right circumstances. But the singular “championship” might be all you win. If you’re going to see one of these star players go on a run of multiple championships, which is usually the catalyst for getting mass respect from fans and media, then it’s going to take putting some better teammates around them.

Jokic won a title with Aaron Gordon or Michael Porter Jr. as the No. 3 player on the Nuggets, but one title run against multiple No. 8 seeds is likely all you’re going to get with that setup. Remember, Jokic is now 0-5 in the playoffs against 50-win teams in his career.

According to Josh Dubow, the 2024 Celtics and 2023 Nuggets make up half of the teams in NBA history to win a title in an 82-game season without beating any teams that won more than 50 games. The only other teams to do that are the 1971 Bucks and the 1976 Celtics. So, this rarely happens and yet it’s happened two years in a row.

We’ve seen the 76ers fail the draft process for Embiid with back-to-back No. 1 picks used on Ben Simmons (2016) and Markelle Fultz (2017). Meanwhile, the Celtics used the No. 3 pick in both of those drafts to get Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Ouch. The 76ers have also struck out with Jimmy Butler and James Harden playing with Embiid.

We covered Luka’s teammate shortcomings above, and we know Milwaukee likely made a mistake when it opted for an aging Damian Lillard and a coaching change (multiple, actually) instead of keeping Jrue Holiday in town. How’d that work out this season?

That archetype of a great player surrounded by a top coach and a couple of high-quality teammates seems to be going by the wayside in today’s NBA.

Until we see that return for a few teams, you might just have to get used to one-off championships and the postseason is a battle of attrition to see who survives the injury luck and prevails in the couple of playoff games that are actually close in the final minutes.

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