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Who should guard Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the NBA Finals?

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The Celtics have a handful of options to keep either star guard.

Who should guard Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the NBA Finals?

Jayson Tatum is one of the few options the Celtics have to guard Luka Doncic in the NBA Finals. Matthew J. Lee/Globe team

Joe Mazzulla doesn’t believe the NBA Finals will come down to the Celtics’ ability to stop Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving from scoring, but it’s clear it will be a major factor in the series.

Doncic and Irving scored a combined 59.5 points per game in the regular season, with Doncic being the league’s leading scorer at 33.9 points per game. They maintained their scoring prowess for much of the season, scoring a combined 59.4 points per game in their Western Conference Finals victory over the Timberwolves.

Fortunately for Mazzulla, he has a team with two guards named second team All-Defense this season and two versatile forwards considered plus defenders for the position.

As the countdown to the NBA Finals continues, let’s take a look at how the Celtics’ starting guards and forwards fared against Doncic and Irving this season, via NBA Stats Tracker .com.

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Doncic’s stats with Holiday as primary defender: 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field (1 of 1 on 3-pointers) with six assists and two turnovers on 31.5 partial possessions in 6:07. The Mavericks scored 36 points with Holiday as the primary defender (114.3 offensive rating). Holiday committed two shooting fouls while guarding Doncic.

Irving stats with Holiday as primary defender: 10 points on 4 of 9 shooting from the field (2 of 2 on 3-pointers) with two assists for zero turnovers over 45 partial possessions in 8:37. The Mavericks scored 51 points with Holiday as the primary defender (113.3 offensive rating). Holiday didn’t commit a shooting foul while guarding Irving.

Holiday’s regular season defensive stats: 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. Opponents shot 45.1 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from deep, with Holiday the closest defender.

Holiday’s playoff defensive stats: 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Opponents shot 42.4 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from deep, with Holiday the closest defender.

Derrick White

Doncic stats with White as primary defender: 22 points on 9 of 11 shooting from the field (3 of 5 on 3-pointers) with three assists to zero turnovers on 14.7 partial possessions in 2:27. The Mavericks scored 28 points with White as the primary defender (190.5 offensive rating). White committed a shooting foul while defending Doncic.

Irving stats with White as primary defender: 10 points on 5 of 11 shooting from the field (0 for 3 on 3-pointers) with zero assists to two turnovers on 41.5 partial possessions in 7:47. The Mavericks scored 48 points with White as the primary defender (115.7 offensive rating). White did not commit a shooting foul and recorded a block while defending Irving.

White’s regular season defensive stats: 1.2 blocks, 1 steal per game. Opponents shot 45.3 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from deep, with White being the closest defender.

White’s playoff defensive stats: 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals per game. Opponents shot 47.3 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from deep, with White being the closest defender.

Jaylen Brown

Doncic stats with Brown as primary defender: 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field (0-for-1 on 3-pointers) with six assists to zero turnovers on 57.2 partial possessions in 11:15. The Mavericks scored 47 points with Brown as the primary defender (82.2 offensive rating). Brown committed two shooting fouls and recorded a block while defending Doncic.

Irving stats with Brown as primary defender: Four points on 2 of 4 from the field (0 of 2 on 3-pointers) with three assists to zero turnovers on 16.4 partial possessions in 2:54. The Mavericks scored 31 points with Brown as the primary defender (189 offensive rating). Brown did not commit a shooting record while defending Irving.

Brown’s regular season defensive stats: 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks per game. Opponents shot 44.8 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from deep, with Brown the closest defender.

Brown’s playoff defensive stats: 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Opponents shot 49 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from deep, with Brown the closest defender.

Jayson Tatum

Doncic stats with Tatum as primary defender: Two points on 1 of 4 shooting from the field (did not attempt a 3-pointer) with three assists to zero turnovers on 12.4 partial possessions in 2:12. The Mavericks scored 12 points with Tatum as the primary defender (96.8 offensive rating). Tatum did not commit a shooting foul while defending Doncic.

Irving stats with Tatum as primary defender: Two points on 1 of 6 shooting from the field (0 for 2 from 3-point range) with one assist to zero turnovers on 18.1 partial possessions in 2:50. The Mavericks scored 18 points with Tatum as the primary defender (99.4 offensive rating). Tatum did not commit a shooting foul while defending Irving.

Tatum’s regular season defensive stats: 1 steal, 0.6 blocks per game. Opponents shot 46.7 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from deep, with Tatum the closest defender.

Tatum’s playoff defensive stats: 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks per game. Opponents shot 51 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from deep, with Tatum the closest defender.

How the Celtics greats did against Doncic and Irving.

These days, we all know that offenses like to chase certain matchups. This has been evident for the Celtics defense thus far in the playoffs, with opponents often looking to isolate Al Horford.

So let’s take a quick look at how Horford and Kristaps Porzingis performed against Doncic and Irving in the playoffs.

Doncic stats with Horford as primary defender: Eight points on 3 of 10 shots (0 of 5 at 3 points) with three assists and a turnover. Horford committed a shooting foul while defending Doncic.

Irving stats with Horford as primary defender: Six points on 2 of 3 shots (2 of 2 at 3 points) with zero assists and zero turnovers. Horford did not commit a shooting foul while defending Irving.

Doncic stats with Porzingis as primary defender: Five points on 2 of 5 shots (1 of 2 from 3 points) with an assist for zero turnovers. Porzingis did not commit a shooting foul while guarding Doncic.

Irving stats with Porzingis as primary defender: Six points on 3 of 6 shooting (0 of 1 from 3-point range) with zero assists and zero turnovers. Porzingis did not commit a shooting foul while defending Irving.

Takeaways

First of all, it should be noted that these are small samples, so they are not a be-all and end-all solution.

However, the most glaring thing to note is White’s lack of success in defending Doncic in either game this season. It could be as simple as Doncic having the hot hand, but Brown was notably the Mavericks star’s strongest defender this season on the Celtics.

There are a few things beyond the Celtics’ matchups with the Mavericks that Brown might be the best option for them to throw at Doncic. Clippers guard Terance Mann and Thunder guard/forward Jalen Williams have had the most success slowing Doncic down offensively from defenders to take on the Mavericks star for at least 10 minutes so far in the playoffs.

Doncic scored 15 points on 15 of 39 shooting and missed all 12 of his 3-pointers when Mann was on him, dishing out just seven assists to three turnovers. Doncic scored nine points on 4-of-13 shooting (1-of-5 from deep) with 10 assists off six turnovers when Williams guarded him.

Brown has a similar build to Mann and Williams, standing 6 feet 6 inches taller than them.

Brown has also taken on some of the Celtics’ toughest assignments along the perimeter so far in the playoffs. Pascal Siakam shot 7 of 14 from the field when Brown was on him in the Eastern Conference finals, shooting just 1 of 4 from deep with one assist to four turnovers, for example.

Meanwhile, Irving hasn’t given the Celtics as many fits as Doncic this season. Holiday might be their best option to slow down the Mavericks point guard, however, having success against other point guards defensively in the playoffs. Tyler Herro scored 23 points on 8-of-21 shooting when Holiday was on him in the first round while Darius Garland scored 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting with the Celtics defensive guard on him in the second round.

It’s pretty clear, however, that Doncic will be able to score and that Irving will be difficult to stop no matter who is guarding them. But can the Celtics slow them down just enough? They certainly have the power to do it.

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