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NBA Finals 2024 - The 168 square feet that will determine this Boston Celtics-Dallas Mavericks title clash - ESPN

GAME 1 BETWEEN the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics was, to be generous, a basketball demolition.

Against the NBA's best defense over the last quarter of the season, the Celtics got just about whatever they wanted offensively. Inside, if and when they probed the paint, they logged a franchise-best 60.4% blow-by rate — which measures how often a dribbler bursts past his defender, per Second Spectrum — while also shooting a perfect 15-for-15 from the restricted area.

On the perimeter, there was a similar tale of dominance for the C's. Boston took 42 triples — and hit 38.1% of them — while Dallas launched 27 and connected on just 25.9% of them. Kyrie Irving, just 6-for-19 with 12 points, was 0-for-5 from outside.

«We've got to move the ball,» coach Jason Kidd said after the loss. «The ball just stuck too much.»

But it was the type of dominance from outside that should strike fear in Mavericks fans and hope for Celtics fans itching to hang an 18th banner inside TD Garden.

There are exactly 168 square feet of real estate on the court that deserve more attention than the rest. And how each team performs within that space could determine the 2024 NBA champion.

THROUGHOUT GAME 1, Luka Doncic, the league's most double-teamed player each of the past two seasons, struggled to find open teammates behind the arc. He logged just one assist, his career playoff low and the fewest he has ever had — in the regular season or postseason — when logging 35 minutes or more. And this wasn't merely a case of the Mavs missing shots off his passes. He had six potential assists — less than half of his playoff average of 15.4 potential dimes entering Game 1.

The Celtics' starting five features five good defenders, including two — Jrue Holiday