It’s hard to imagine a matchup between two teams with such drastically different vibes right now. Dallas is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and have been storming their way up a jam-packed Western Conference. Boston, the East’s top team, is a ho-hum 5-5 over their last 10 and just got absolutely incinerated by a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-less Thunder team, 150-117.
The matchup at Boston was looking like a real test of the Mav’s resolve. Their winning despite still being without their three best defenders in part because of a rather soft schedule. Still, they’ve taken care of business. Now it’s hard to know what to make of Boston. They’re a contender in the East, but the doldrums of the regular season seem to be getting them down.
Shock and awe
Boston feels like a team susceptible to early-game vibes. In five of their last six games, the team winning after the first quarter went on to win the whole game. Now, after that atrocious outing against the Thunder, Boston may be even more prone to simply play out whatever the flow of the game seems to be.
If Dallas can come out early and punch them in the mouth, it could keep the morale low enough that the Mavericks could roll to a win and keep that winning streak going.
Drive to survive
The Thunder shot the ball well from deep against Boston. Obviously, they scored 150 points. Still, it wasn’t like it was some kind of shooting gallery; OKC took just 40 three-pointers all game. That’s like work for a team like Dallas who is attempting nearly 42 per game as it is.
The more eye-popping number was the 70 points Oklahoma got in the paint, and it wasn’t from feeding the big guys. Guards like Aaron Wiggins, Isaiah Joe, and Jalen Williams had a field day. That trio alone went 19-of-25 from the paint and 17-of-19 from the restricted area. With as good of a perimeter defensive team as Boston is, as for as good of a lane operator as Luka Doncic is, perhaps there's something to glean from the OKC game. Granted, the Celtics were without their defensive presence down low as Robert Williams didn’t play, still working back to game shape after an injury. If he plays, that could change the calculus.
Of course I know him. He’s me.
Boston and Dallas have gotten to where they are this season through similar tactics. Mainly, shoot the ball well enough that you can get away with playing “just fine” defense.
The #NBA efficiency landscape: pic.twitter.com/1ZBpRRqKmo— Synergy Basketball (@SynergySST) January 3, 2023
Both the Dallas and Boston offenses thrive on creating open looks. 26 percent of the Mavericks’ shots are wide open (nearest defender is beyond six feet). That’s the third-best mark in the league, but the Celtics aren’t far off. They take 24 percent of their shots wide open (sixth in the league), and how they’re converting on those shots plays a big part in how the game’s going to go.
In wins, Boston hits open shots with a 63.9 eFG% – that number is 60 eFG% for Dallas. In losses, Boston’s eFG% on open shots tumbles all the way down to 45.8 percent. The gulf isn’t quite so wide for the Mavs at 52.1%, but it’s clear – these teams need to convert on the shots they create for their high-powered offenses to churn, and whoever does that better is likely going to win.
How to watch
You can broadcast or stream the game on TNT at 6:30 CST.