NBA

Best Player or Best Team: What Matters More in the NBA Finals?

The Celtics have the best record in the league. The Mavericks have Luka Doncic.

June 4, 2024

The Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks are both one series away from claiming a championship but have gotten there in completely different ways.

The Celtics — who are currently -220 favorites to win the NBA Finals on Tipico Sportsbook — put together one of the strongest regular seasons of all time. They dominated the Eastern Conference with a 64-18 record, 14 games ahead of the second-seeded Knicks. They had the second-highest defensive rating and 2nd highest points per game in the league this season. 

Meanwhile, the Mavericks didn’t round into form until the trade deadline, when they acquired Daniel Gafford and PJ Washington. They fortified their defense and are sporting a 34-14 record since the trade deadline.

Their success also hinges highly on one player. Luka Doncic put together an MVP-caliber season, despite finishing in third for the vote. Their goal has always been to put a team around him that could help him reach the Finals, and this year they’ve finally done it.

So let me ask you, what matters more in an NBA Finals series; The best team or the best player? The answer could sway which horse you pick in this race.

Can the Best Player Overcome the Best Team?

Luka Doncic will be the best player on the floor for this entire series. There are only a few historical precedents for the situation we find ourselves in where the best player in the series is not on the best team. The most fitting and recent example of this is when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were underdogs to the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 Finals. However, the Bucks took that series behind a huge performance from Giannis in the close-out game, and the contributions of key role players like Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. 

That comparison is a good sign for Luka and the Mavs, but the Celtics still have all-NBA caliber players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and their skill gap is significantly smaller than that of Doncic and his running mate Kyrie Irving. The Suns were a shallow team in that Finals, with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Mikal Bridges making up the bulk of their scoring. Those three players are not in the same wheelhouse as a lineup like Tatum, Brown, and Kristaps Porzingis — especially with the depth behind them with the likes of Jrue Holiday and Derrick White.

The Best Team Wins A Lot

The best team gets the trophy often in almost any sport. The Celtics have basically been wire-to-wire favorites to win the championship for the entire season. They do nearly everything well, from scoring to rebounding to shot-creating, and so on. On paper, they are the best team in the NBA this season and would make a great fit as an NBA champion.

They also bolster a massive experience advantage, as a majority of this group participated in the NBA Finals just two seasons ago, and have been through several playoff runs in recent seasons. This rendition of the Celtics has made the playoffs every year since Jayson Tatum was drafted in 2017, winning at least one series each season but one. 

Their downside? At no point in this playoff run has this team truly been tested by their opponent. Each round, they ran into a team that was missing a star or key role player. This run includes matchups against the Heat sans Jimmy Butler, the Cavs who lost Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen by the end of the series, and the Pacers who had Tyrese Haliburton go down to injury. On top of that, the teams many thought could stop the Celtics — like the Knicks, Sixers, and Bucks — were also bitten by the injury bug. 

Along the way, the Celtics struggled to put teams away after they lost Kristaps Porzingis to injury as well. They lost game two in both the Heat and the Cavs series and had some close moments in the series sweep against the Pacers. Although they are winning nearly every game they play, they are not blowing teams out. And some bettors tend to think that matters.

As for Porzingis, he should return to the lineup in game one of the series, and no one knows how rested or healthy he will be. So the so-called “downsides” to this team are essentially: they’re not winning games by enough points and an injured player just returned to the lineup. And when you put it like that, it seems like a weak case to make. 

Prediction

The Mavs make it an interesting and high-scoring series, but the Celtics come out on top. The Celtics win 4-2 (which you can bet on Tipico Sportsbook at +470). I don’t feel confident in the exact number of games it will take, but I do feel more confident in a bet like Celtics -1.5 games at -101

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Sam Bloomquist
Sam Bloomquist is Tipico's Social Media Manager.
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