The Pendulum Swing: Why Game 1 Feels Crucial for Boston

While, in actuality, it only took a few days for Celtics fans to find out whether it would be the Mavs or Timberwolves as their team’s NBA Finals opponent, it did feel like a lot longer. The Mavs wrapped up the series with a fairly comfortable victory in Minnesota, booking their place as in the Finals and giving Boston fans, players, and Joe Mazzulla a lot to think about.

On paper – and we are being objective here – everything points to a Celtics’ victory. The team had the best record in NBA (both at home and away), beat Dallas twice in the regular season, and face an opponent lacking in experience (Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving aside). Perhaps most telling of all is that no team seeded below 3rd has won an NBA Championship since the Rockets in 1996. Dallas is the 5th seed. Sportsbooks have made the Celtics clear favorites in the NBA Finals odds, and it is with good reason.

Doubts Ahead of Game 1

Yet, the term “on paper” can do a lot of heavy lifting in basketball, and you get the sense that the Celtics should be confident without stepping into overconfidence. Not everything is rosy, of course: the questions over the health of Kristaps Porzingis; the sense of foreboding that Kyrie Irving is going to come back and haunt this team; the form of Luka Doncic; the fact that Dallas looks like a completely different team from the one the Celtics beat 138-110 in early March.

It's been noted (several times, in fact) on the Shout Box on CelticsLife that Game 1 is going to be important. Of course, that’s always the case in a championship series. But it feels like much more than a throwaway comment. Momentum counts for a lot in basketball, and the Mavericks have had a lot of that since the early spring. Putting out an authoritative performance at TD Garden on Thursday will go a long way to halting that momentum. There are certainly reasons to believe that is likely to happen. The Celtics have been immense at home all season, going 37-4 in the regular season and 6-2 in the Playoffs. While the defense has been a big talking point this season, Boston’s offense rating at home (125.9) is significantly better at home than on the road (110.1), although it is worth stressing that the Celtics have hardly struggled on their travels this term; 6-0 in the Playoffs on the road is mightily impressive.

A Tone-Setter for the Series

But as a tone-setter, you get the impression that Game 1 will be crucial. A Boston victory would inspire the fans at the TD Garden and around the city to get vocally behind the team. They will, of course, support them, even if there are reports that regular fans will be priced out of attending. Yet, a big performance will really knock the Mavs’ confidence, and it would, we would argue, settle any doubts over the Irving issue. Of course, all will not be lost if the Celtics manage to lose Game 1. Losing both at TD Garden would be a disaster before heading to Dallas. But a commanding victory in Game 1 would probably negate many of the issues hanging over the Celtics, including, perhaps, giving more time for Porzingis to recover. If they lose, there will be a momentum shift, a feeling that the Mavs are really in this series. Thursday could set up the narrative for the series, a pivotal game in Boston’s quest for an 18th NBA Championship.