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The Dallas Mavericks attempted 27 3-pointers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics attempted 27 3-pointers in the first half. When Mavericks stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving checked out with 5:17 left in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had generated 48 points from behind the 3-point line to the Mavericks' 15.

It was an extreme example of what Boston, the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooting team, often does to opponents. In the regular season, it attempted an average of 5.8 more 3-pointers per 100 possessions than its opponents, tied with the Indiana Pacers for the biggest differential in the league.

Dallas, however, is not just any other opponent. The Western Conference champs were the second-most prolific 3-point shooting team this season, and nobody attempted more corner 3s than them. On Thursday, the Mavericks shot 1-for-3 in the corners, and the one make was in garbage time. After watching Doncic and Irving shred the Minnesota Timberwolves' top-ranked defense, it was jarring to watch the Celtics so thoroughly defang them.

If Dallas doesn't solve this math problem on Sunday, it has little chance of evening the series. And chucking up a bunch of off-the-dribble 3s won't do the trick. For the Mavs to bounce back, they need to create the kind of looks that Boston did in the opener.

Drive-and-kick dominance

You can get a pretty good idea of how the Celtics ran away with Game 1 simply by watching the first quarter. Coming off a fast-paced, offense-heavy series against the Indiana Pacers, Boston played at a totally different speed than Dallas did. Early on, after a P.J. Washington dunk, the Celtics pushed the ball and created a wide-open corner 3 for Al Horford. Look at Jaylen Brown getting inside the 3-point line with 21 seconds on the shot clock, drawing a second defender and kicking the ball out.

If one single sequence was a microcosm of the game, it might be when Irving bonked a 3 off the side of the backboard in isolation against Sam Hauser, leading to a trail 3 for Porzingis: 

Derrick White and Hauser also cashed transition 3s in the first quarter. And when Boston was in the halfcourt, it was consistently able to get downhill, collapse the defense and find clean looks:

Unlike the Mavs' previous opponents, Boston doesn't put anybody on the court who can be flat-out ignored on the perimeter. This demands a more disciplined, connected defensive effort from Dallas, but it also demands better offense. At their best, the Mavericks are the ones putting their opponents on their heels and getting into the teeth of the defense. On Thursday, Doncic didn't create a 3-pointer for a teammate until the 7:32 mark of the second quarter (Washington missed it), and he finished the game with just seven potential assists. (For context, Doncic averaged 16.9 potential assists in the regular season. Jayson Tatum had a game-high 14 in Game 1.)

Last week, during his end-of-season press conference, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti told reporters that Dallas was "the superior passing team" in their second-round series, which went six games and had a cumulative point differential of zero. In a series that close, the fact that the Mavericks were "half a tick" faster with their ball movement "made it harder for us to get out to their players." In May and June, that can make a world of difference.

"Regular season, I think you can win with the dribble," Presti said. "Postseason, I think you win with the pass."

Dallas' offense isn't pass-heavy in the way that, say, the Golden State Warriors' is. During the regular season, it finished dead last in passes per possession. Doncic, though, is one of the best playmakers who has ever lived. When he does pass the ball, there's a good chance he's putting the receiver of that pass in position to shoot, pass or attack with an advantage. Because of this, the Mavericks are an efficient passing team. On the NBA's official website, you can find an extremely niche stat called "assist to pass percentage adjusted," which is defined as "the percentage of passes by a player or team that are assists, free throw assists, or secondary assists." In the regular season, Dallas ranked sixth in this category, and, among individual players, LeBron James is the only one who ranked higher than Doncic.

The Mavericks can't be pleased with their most stagnant, least efficient offensive performance of the postseason, but it's worth noting that they started their first two series similarly. The question now is whether or not they can get their groove back against this particular defense.

Attack, attack, attack

It is easy to say that Dallas simply needs to get up more 3s and move the ball better going forward. Going into the series, though, coach Jason Kidd surely didn't tell his team to just play iso-ball, avoid fast breaks and take contested 2s.

"Pace and space -- what does that mean? Every team wants to space well," Jeff Van Gundy, now a Celtics consultant, told The Athletic in 2020. "You think everybody says, 'Let's hog and clog? Let's not pass and fill the lane.' Oh, shit."

If the Mavs are to be criticized for their Game 1 showing, then the Celtics should be credited in equal measure. Boston, which finished the regular season with the No. 2 defense in the league, was clearly focused on taking away Dallas' 3s and lobs and forcing its stars into contested midrange shots. It switched 1 through 4, didn't blitz any pick-and-rolls and selectively helped off of the Mavs' role players.

This strategy wasn't surprising. It is how the Celtics usually defend, and it isn't all that different from what the Clippers did in the first round or what the Timberwolves did at the beginning of the conference finals. But Boston's execution was impeccable. This was apparent in its many huge, highlight blocks:  

And in the small things: 

Doncic was terse when asked about recording only one assist on Thursday. "They mostly play one-on-one, they didn't send a lot of help, so that's why," he told reporters. Irving praised Boston and said that he has to "catch the ball on a live dribble and just be aware of my opportunities."

If you rewatch all of the Mavericks' offensive possessions, you will find some shots they'd like to have back and a few passes that should have been made. Generally speaking, though, the Celtics are taking away their passing lanes and challenging two of the best one-on-one players on the planet to go one-on-one. Dallas' job in Game 2 is to make Boston reconsider that strategy. This means that Doncic and Irving must attack, attack, attack.

Doncic found some success targeting Porzingis in pick-and-rolls on Thursday. Going at Horford and Hauser was less fruitful, but that could change. Both he and Irving need to be relentless in getting downhill and creating advantages. They need to make pull-up jumpers against the drop, punish switches and make the right reads around the rim. That they did all of this against Minnesota, which had the league's best regular-season defense, is encouraging. But it will be harder against Boston. The Celtics' best lineups do not have any real weak links.

To be a great offensive team in today's NBA, you have to be able to beat all kinds of defensive coverages. It's nice to have beautiful ball and body movement, but, against a switching defense, you also need to be able to hunt favorable matchups and get two defenders on the ball the old-fashioned way. So yes, Dallas has to rediscover its drive-and-kick game and create more 3s in the Finals. Counterintuitive as it may sound, the best way to do that is to let Doncic and Irving cook.