The Celtics are the first 3-and-D team to win it all — and a new blueprint for NBA title hopefuls

The Boston Celtics aren’t just NBA champions. They’re an aspirational blueprint.

With an 80-21 overall record this season, these Boston Celtics were just as different as they were dominant. There was no Nikola Jokić, LeBron James or Stephen Curry on this team. There was no MVP or former MVP who could reasonably stake claim to being known as the game’s best.

Historically, that’s an anomaly. It’s also why the 29 other teams in the NBA are undoubtedly watching with a close eye.

The Celtics didn’t win by having the game’s supreme player, which is the lesson here, because there is only one of those, and damn near impossible to acquire. Instead, the Celtics won by having the best team, one constructed with a certain modern-day vision of a five-out system. The 3-and-D player became en vogue in the 21st century, but this was the first 3-and-D team — a deep squad built to rain from downtown and defend at a high level. For now, 3-and-D was a better formula than M-V-P.

There’s a saying in basketball: live by the 3, die by the 3. The Boston Celtics don’t abide by that ethos. They seem to take on a different angle: live by the 3, thrive by the 3.

The Celtics took more 3-pointers than any team in the NBA this regular season. A total of 3,482, to be exact. The second team on that leaderboard was the team they just beat in the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics’ proportion of field-goal attempts that were 3-pointers, 47.1 percent of all shots, set a record for an NBA champion. In the Finals, that percentage swelled to 49.6 percent, exemplifying how much they believed in the shot. To put it in perspective, the 2008 champion Celtics took 121 3-pointers in the Finals. This year’s Celtics just took 207 3-pointers — in one fewer game.

The thing is, the Celtics didn’t even get particularly hot from downtown. Brown and Tatum shot 23.5 percent and 26.8 percent, respectively, from beyond the arc in the series. But overall, through sheer volume, the Celtics scored 66 more points from deep than the Mavericks did and routinely attacked the open driving lanes the 3-point spacing provided.

It’s widely known the NBA is increasingly becoming a 3-point league. More 3-pointers are being taken every year. Rather than buck the trend, the Celtics leaned all the way in, playing a 3-point threat at all five positions — at all times. Did I mention that this was the best offense in NBA history? Yes, with the perimeter-oriented offense, they scored 122.2 points per 100 possessions, a blistering figure even in an offensively charged era.

Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis, center, raises his arm as he celebrates with teammates near the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after the Celtics won the NBA championship with a Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, June 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Kristaps Porziņģis, a 3-and-D unicorn, was a true difference-maker for the champs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Kristaps Porziņģis acquisition symbolized the Celtics’ template. The Porziņģis trade was a risky transaction for Boston president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, but one that may have sealed the championship. The Celtics already possessed an elite stretch 5 in Al Horford, but the organization clearly saw the value of having Porziņģis, one of the best stretch 5s to ever play the sport, as someone who could be a differentiator. The power of Porziņģis allowed the Celtics to continue playing head coach Joe Mazzulla’s five-out system without skipping a beat, an offensive strategy that would seem alien to any of the 17 past Boston champions who mostly played inside the arc.

Though Jaylen Brown won the Finals MVP, one could make a case that the 7-foot-2 unicorn Porziņģis was the real difference-maker in this series, even though he missed time with his leg injury. He swatted away Dallas layups and dunked over the Mavs' defense, and it was two early 3-pointers from Causeway Street in Game 1 that set the tone for the series and made the TD Garden roof nearly pop off. A 7-foot-2 shot-blocker who can confidently step up and knock down shots from anywhere on the parquet proved to be a weapon Dallas sorely lacked.

The scoreboard underlined Porziņģis’ value. According to, in the 60 minutes that Porziņģis was on the floor in this series, the Celtics won 143-113, giving the Latvian a series-best plus-33 in the plus-minus column. When Porziņģis sat, the Celtics were a minus-21, the team’s largest deficit for any Boston player on the bench.

Yes, it’s true that the Golden State Warriors won four championships featuring two of the best 3-point shooters ever in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but those teams weren’t believers in the 3-point shot top to bottom. On those three-ball-heavy squads, head coach Steve Kerr regularly started one paint-dwelling big man — Kevon Looney or Andrew Bogut or JaVale McGee — the same strategy that the Mavericks employed in this series.

Beyond Porziņģis and the five-out system, the 3-point shot also dictated the postseason in ways that may or may not have been obvious from watching the games. Ultimately, the team that won the 3-point column, in makes, during the Finals was 5-0. The Celtics took the category in Games 1, 2, 3 and 5 while the Mavericks nipped the C’s in 3-pointers in their Game 4 rout. The team that won the 2-point field-goal, turnover, rebounding, steal or block category weren’t nearly as aligned with the final outcome as 3-point field goals.

In fact, the Boston Celtics won the 3-point column in a whopping 15 games this postseason. Their record in those 15 games? A perfect 15-0. They didn’t lose a single game this postseason when they splashed more 3s than their opponent. There have been champions with a perfect record when winning the 3-point column, but no one did it as many as 15 times.

Winning in the postseason is hard, but it’s a lot easier when you’re raining from downtown like the Boston Celtics did. Statistically, it matters more than ever. This postseason, according to, the team that won the made 3-point column went 60-17 this postseason, a collective win percentage of .779. That’s the highest mark since the NBA moved the 3-point line back in 1998.

It’s not as simple to say that the Boston Celtics won because they believed in the 3-point shot more than any team in NBA history. The Houston Rockets, led by Mike D’Antoni, emphasized the 3-point shot more than this Celtics team did. There’s a twist to this story and it’s an important plot line to the Celtics’ 18th championship.


To win it all, it’s not enough to launch 3s; you have to defend as well.

It might seem counterintuitive that the Celtics doubled-down on the 3-and-D strategy by trading Marcus Smart in the offseason, a former Defensive Player of the Year who slung plenty of 3-pointers. The Smart-for-Porziņģis trade was a matter of scarcity. You can find 3-and-D wings. (Heck, they just got one in Jrue Holiday for Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III and two first-round picks.) As a spacing center, Porziņģis allowed the Celtics to fully embrace the two-way system rather than adjust their game plan with a more traditional big man.

Porziņģis proved that he can defend at a high level again. He may not have been ready to do that in previous stops when he battled injuries and may have understandably prioritized establishing himself as a go-to scorer. Porziņģis reclaimed his status this season as a dominant rim-protector, posting a 5.8 percent block rate, his highest since he led the league in that category in his lone All-Star season in 2017-18.

In the Finals, he was a two-way monster. According to, Porziņģis held Dallas scorers to just 41.7 percent shooting at the rim when he was nearby, the stingiest mark for any defender with at least 10 field-goal attempts defended in the rim area.

Acquiring a 3-and-D unicorn didn’t come at a steep price either. Remember, the Celtics didn’t just receive Porziņģis in the Smart swap; the Memphis Grizzlies tossed in two first-round picks into the deal to grease the wheels. The haul proved to be extra helpful considering one of those picks — the 2024 Golden State Warriors’ first — was flipped in the package to acquire Holiday, another 3-and-D star, from Portland.

That the Celtics were able to pluck such a difference-maker from a cellar-dweller like the Washington Wizards is instructive for the 29 other teams looking to raise the next Larry O’Brien trophy. There has been a different title winner in each of the last six seasons and the trend could continue if the Celtics falter like previous champions in recent history have done.

It will always be the case that teams want to acquire the best players, and the very best ones will continue to move the needle the most. But with harsher constraints in the new collective bargaining agreement that punish teams for assembling pricey rosters, the talent pool may flatten as teams may have to move away from the superteam model.

In a way, the Celtics’ success suggests that the superteam model can work in today’s CBA environment if the emphasis is on team rather than super. Players like Porziņģis and Holiday are more plentiful than MVPs — or Browns and Tatums for that matter. Teams can see the Porziņģis and Holiday trades as a realistic blueprint they can follow as opposed to trying to strike draft-night gold with a superstar like LeBron, Steph or Jokić.

The Celtics proved that having an MVP on the team is no longer a prerequisite to winning the title. Sure, the Celtics were led by an All-Star in Brown and a first-team All-NBA member in Tatum, but it’s the first time that a team won a championship without a player who had previously won an MVP or Finals MVP since the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who beat the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers. What the Celtics lacked in superstar power, they more than made up for with All-Star power.

Rather than grind one or two superstars down to a pulp, the Celtics’ collective model helps to weather the storm in case of injury. Sure, injuries to star players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and Donovan Mitchell meant that the Celtics didn’t have to face them in their title run. But every title team needs luck on its side. Furthermore, the Celtics were built to withstand the rigors of the season.

In an environment when the postseason is becoming a war of attrition, it certainly helps to have five All-Star-caliber players than build around a transcendent star who could be sidelined with one bad ankle roll and derail the season. Case in point: the Celtics went 10-2 without Porziņģis in uniform this postseason. But when Porziņģis played in the Finals, he made the difference.

Whether the Celtics are a one-year blip or the start of a new trend remains to be seen, but the signs are pointing in their direction. They increased their margins by slinging it from 3-point land and digging in defensively, and now have another year with every key piece under contract for a repeat quest. That’s the thing about a 3-and-D strategy built on the strength in numbers. Without having to rely on the precarious health of a single superstar, 3-and-D lowers the chances of a one-and-done.