2024 NBA Finals predictions: Will Celtics or Mavs win it all? And who wins Finals MVP?

Finally! The 2024 NBA Finals tip off Thursday night between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks.

Both Finalists have taken unique paths to the championship stage, where there will be familiar faces, star reunions, intriguing matchups and lots of legacies on the line. Who will be crowned champions? Our staff offers 24 takes on the '24 Finals.

Ben Rohrbach: Jayson Tatum. Win, and he is a certified No. 1 for a title team, one of the three or four best players in the NBA and stamped forever as an all-time great. Lose, and he is not built for the biggest stage, somewhere outside the NBA's top five and an all-time also-ran. At least until he plays his way back here. Luka Dončić has built-in excuses as an underdog in his first foray into the Finals. Tatum is no longer afforded excuses.

Dan Devine: I was gonna say the NBA, what with the whole “our media deal is coming up!” thing, but it sounds like they’re doing just fine on that score, thank you very much. So let’s go with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — less because they Desperately Need a Ring to Prove They’re Good Enough, and more because I bet they sure would like to, at long last, shut everybody the hell up.

(Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports Illustration)
(Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports Illustration)

Vincent Goodwill: Tatum. The Celtics have had a charmed road to get here with very little attrition and are facing a game 5th seed, but a 5th seed nonetheless. Kinda like the Nuggets last year. Tatum hasn’t played up to expectations offensively but that can change here. If not now, when? If not him, then who? A lot is riding on the man who’ll sign a $300 million deal this offseason. It’s time to step into his destiny.

Tom Haberstroh: Boston’s star duo. Tatum and Brown have gotten so close, and yet it feels so far. Tatum already seems fed up with the scrutiny. It’ll pale in comparison to the ridicule if they fall short of a title again. They’re young enough that they could be back, but that’s what we said about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Dan Titus: Kyrie Irving. The most gifted basketball player we’ve ever seen hasn’t reached the NBA Finals since 2017. Irving’s post-Cavs career has been marred by controversy, but he’s on the path to redemption. His leadership and clutch performances helped the Mavs get to this point and what better way to rebuild his reputation than to win another championship. To see him flip the villain narrative in front of a vengeful Boston crowd would be fascinating.

Jake Fischer: Boston’s ownership group. The Celtics historically have been able to pay top dollar and willing to pay the luxury tax for rosters that compete for championships. And yet, as the NBA’s new second apron ramifications come into play, if Boston does not claim the title, will the Celtics have to start thinking about the enormity of their payroll without capturing that elusive 18th banner?

Goodwill: Jrue Holiday. There’s one player on the Celtics who knows what it’s like to win a championship, to make defining plays in a championship series, with his strip of Devin Booker and thunderous lob to Giannis in the swing Game 5 of the 2021 Finals. Now, his mission is to guard Kyrie Irving. It was also years ago, but he put Damian Lillard on punishment in 2018, when Holiday was in New Orleans. He connects this team with defense and savvy. Let’s see if he replicates a championship showing one more time.

Fischer: P.J. Washington. The Mavericks’ two-way forward was Dallas’ bonafide third banana for much of the team’s second-round win over OKC. He was the third player to take the main news conference podium stage at Wednesday’s media day. But Washington’s outside efficiency cratered during the Western Conference finals. And Dallas will need its fullest offensive arsenal — that includes Washington keeping pace with Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Al Horford and others in the corners — to hang with Boston’s scoring attack.

Devine: Jrue Holiday. Maybe a two-time All-Star, six-time All-Defensive selection and NBA champion is a little too decorated to be designated an “X-factor.” But he’ll bear a ton of defensive responsibility for trying to limit Kyrie Irving, and he might be the closest thing to safe harbor in Boston’s top six if Dallas decides to try to junk things up by cross-matching its bigs away from guarding the returning Guy I’m Not Allowed to Mention. If Holiday strokes his jumpers and makes the right reads — as he did throughout the Eastern playoffs, shooting 40% from deep with a 2.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio — the Celtics’ league-best offense should keep humming. If he starts bricking, though — as he did at times throughout his three postseasons as a Buck — Dallas’ defense might have something to exploit.

Rohrbach: Derrick White. He is lost in the discussion of the best players in the Finals. We talk about Tatum, Brown, Dončić and Irving, whom Jrue Holiday might guard and whether Porziņģis will be healthy. We forget that White can also defend Irving and exploit the Mavericks' defense. He is averaging 18-4-5 on 47/41/89 shooting splits in these playoffs, and he might be Boston's fourth or fifth option in this series.

Titus: Dereck Lively II. If the Mavs are going to effectively deter Boston’s 3-point barrage, they’ll need Lively's versatility. Maxi Kleber lacks confidence and, unlike Daniel Gafford, Lively can handle switches and get out to contest on the perimeter. Lively's rebounding, rim protection and finishing are ahead of the curve for a rookie, but his short roll playmaking has been underrated all postseason. The on/off numbers play to his favor, too, so he'll be key to anchoring the Mavs' defense in this series.

Haberstroh: Maxi Kleber. If he can knock down some threes, he might tilt the series. The Mavs desperately need him to be healthy. He can defend the stretch bigs of Boston while also making them pay on the other end. Should the 2022 Kleber arrive in the Finals, life will be so much easier for the Mavs.

Fischer: Kyrie Irving’s performance in front of Boston’s crowd. While he has grown and matured, the Celtics’ home crowd isn’t expected to hold back any venom for its reviled former point guard. Whether Irving stands up to the noise and delivers another incredible performance of these playoffs, or if he cannot find his rhythm at TD Garden, it will serve as plenty of fodder for the instant reaction cycle.

Goodwill: How the Dallas Mavericks went after Kristaps Porziņģis. He only seems but so confident in talking about how healthy he is, having not played in a month, and there’s no mercy in the dojo of the Finals. The Mavericks will test him in switches and attack him with Luka and Kyrie. How he fares, and if he gets stronger through the series, could be the tell.

Titus: How great the C’s look with Porziņģis back in the lineup and how Jrue Holiday and Derrick White made it difficult for Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving to find a rhythm in Game 1. The media will press the panic button on the Mavs when in reality, it was a feel-out game with more adjustments coming ahead of Game 2.

Devine: Adam Silver’s updated timetable for a new round of NBA expansion and the return of the Seattle SuperSonics. Also, how good That Guy I’m Not Sure I’m Allowed to Mention looked after more than five weeks on the shelf, and how tough it’s going to be to guard the C’s when they can stay five-out all game long.

Haberstroh: Porziņģis’ minutes. The Zinger’s calf will be the biggest question mark in the series, and something tells me one game won’t provide all the answers. It’s not an ideal time to be testing an injured soleus muscle. Boston’s margin for error has never been thinner.

Rohrbach: Coaching. Either Boston fans will be furious that Joe Mazzulla did not design a defense that prevented Dončić from torching the Celtics, or Dallas fans will wonder why Jason Kidd could not prevent a deluge from the 3-point line. After a long layoff, one team will not match the other's force, and everyone will be screaming: You had a week to prepare for this series. How could you not be ready? Write it down.

Devine: C’mon, man — I just wrote, like, a whole thing about this. OK, fine: Celtics in 6, Tatum for MVP, Deuce for The Real MVP, and Luke Kornet for Parade MVP (pending).

Rohrbach: Celtics in 6, and Tatum is your Finals MVP. Dončić is the best player in the series, but Boston has too many weapons, and the Mavericks have one stopper: Derrick Jones Jr., who gives up size and strength to Tatum. Brown captured Eastern Conference finals MVP honors, but it is Tatum's turn. There are too many holes on the perimeter for him to exploit, and the Celtics have just enough options to make Dončić work.

Fischer: Mavericks in 6. From covering both of these teams during different stretches of their playoff runs, Dallas has felt in person like the bigger, stronger and nastier team. The Celtics surely boast the stronger talent. It will prove box-office viewing if the Mavericks’ rangy, physical defense can grind this opponent’s high-wire offense — as Dallas did manage vs. OKC and Minnesota. Dončić is ready to add Finals MVP to his trophy case.

Haberstroh: Mavericks in 7. How do you say Most Valuable Player in Slovenian? Luka Dončić. Because of the East’s inferiority and postseason injury luck, Boston hasn’t faced a team half as good as this Mavs team. This feels like the 2021 Finals where the team with the best player coming into his prime — Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo — takes down the team with the vastly better regular-season record, the Suns.

Titus: Celtics in 7. The series will go at least six games, with Boston winning its 18th championship on its home court. Luka Dončić will have his moments, but the Celtics' 3-point shooting plus Kristaps Porziņģis tip the series in favor of Boston. As such, Jayson Tatum will finally rise to the occasion and win Finals MVP — capping off one of the Celtics' best seasons in franchise history.

Goodwill: Mavericks in 6. It would be the most compelling finish, sending the Celtics into an offseason of questions. Honestly, I’ve changed my mind a million times. It could be Celtics in 5, Celtics in 7, finally getting over the hump and living up to their talent. But the most reliable star here is Luka Dončić, who might get a standing ovation from the friendly Celtics crowd before it’s over. Sticking with Mavericks in 6, with Dončić winning Finals MVP.