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Doncic and Irving lead Mavs against Celtics for NBA crown

NBA scoring champion <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/6014/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Luka Doncic;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Luka Doncic</a>, left, of the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/teams/dallas/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Dallas Mavericks;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Dallas Mavericks</a> goes against <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/teams/boston/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Boston;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Boston</a>'s <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/5602/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Jaylen Brown;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Jaylen Brown</a>, right, in a regular-season matchup that previewed Thursday's opening game of the NBA Finals (Brian Fluharty)

NBA scoring champion Luka Doncic and sharpshooter Kyrie Irving spearhead the upstart Dallas Mavericks against the favored Boston Celtics when the NBA Finals begin on Thursday.

Ex-Celtics standout Irving is bracing for a hostile road reception in Boston, five years after quitting the franchise for Brooklyn, leaving Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to turn the Celtics into the league's top club with an NBA-high 64 wins this season.

"They're the best team in the NBA," Doncic said. "They have by far the best record, some incredible weapons on offense and defense so we're going to have to play really hard and amazing basketball to beat them."

Tatum lifted the Celtics into the 2022 final, where they lost to Golden State but planted seeds that could bring a trophy starting with the best-of-seven opener in Boston.

"There's a lot myself, and we, can learn from the experience of being in the finals and this go-around is a lot different," Tatum said. "I'm really just looking at it as a second chance and trying to simplify things as much as we can."

The Celtics seek an unprecedented 18th all-time NBA crown, one more than the record they share with the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston's most recent title came in 2008.

The Mavericks won their only NBA title in 2011 after reaching the 2006 final, losing to Miami.

Irving will be the emotional heart of the series after his Boston stay and a playoff return with Brooklyn that went poorly.

"I'm better at consolidating the emotions now," Irving said. "You call it animosity. We call it hate. We call it, 'It's going to be hell in Boston.'"

"The last time in Boston (in the playoffs with Brooklyn), I don't think that was the best... everyone saw me flip off the birds and kind of lose my (cool) a little bit.

"I wasn't my best self at that time. I've been able to grow since then... I'm looking forward to it. I'll take the brunt of it, all the yells and all the remarks.

- 'No stopping them' -

"That wasn't a great reflection of who I am and how I like to compete on a high level."

He's on a high now, averaging 22.8 points in the playoffs as Slovenian guard Doncic, who averaged 33 points in the regular season, averages 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the playoffs.

Boston counters with two of the NBA's top defensive guards in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White.

"There's really no stopping them. You just try to make it difficult for them," White said. "They're going to take tough shots and they're going to make tough shots. Just trust that over 48 minutes what we're doing is going to work."

Tatum averages 26.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in the playoffs with Brown averages 25.0 points with White and Holiday providing strong support and the team leading the NBA in 3-point shots and baskets. The Celtics are 9-0 when hitting 14 or more three-pointers.

"Boston shoots the three at a high rate," Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. "They have a lot of talented players. They've been here before, they have the experience. They're well-coached. This is another great test."

Dallas center Dereck Lively isn't sweating the experience factor.

"They have a lot of tradition, but that doesn't matter. What matters is who's going to go harder on the court," Lively said. "It's going to be a dogfight out there, but we're going to keep swinging and see what happens."

Boston, which defeated the Mavericks in both meetings this season, expects to have Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis back from a right calf strain suffered on April 29 in the first round against Miami that benched him for 10 games.

"He has been working extremely hard just to get back and to help us in any way he can," White said.

"When KP is at his best, he has been tremendous for us," Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. "We expect that from him."

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