Tim Cowlishaw: Boston and Dallas have no sports rivalry. It’s up to Mavericks to change that vs. Celtics

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) controls the ball against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the second half of Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals on Thursday in Boston. Game 2 is slated for Sunday night. (Peter Casey/USA TODAY)

BOSTON — In a city where pre-Revolutionary War history seems to lurk around every corner, the Mavericks have none at all. Nor does the city of Dallas carry any sporting weight in these parts.

In fact, you can walk around Boston Common, the park approaching its 400th birthday, and see where the British camped for nearly eight years during the war. But the simple task of finding any kind of Dallas-Boston playoff game in your major sports history was impossible before Thursday night’s 107-89 Celtics victory. There were none.


Thanks mostly to the Cowboys, Dallas maintains rivalries filled with playoff memories — good and bad — with New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis and on down the line. The Rangers have played the Yankees four times in the postseason but have never squared off with the Red Sox. All four Dallas teams have had some kind of playoff joust with Bay Area teams. Three of them have played Seattle or Tampa or Detroit.

When the Cowboys were winning five Super Bowls, the New England Patriots were hapless, even pondering moves to Hartford or St. Louis. By the time Tom Brady and Bill Belichick started a ring collection that surpassed everyone but Pittsburgh’s, the Cowboys had entered a 21st century slumber that has not been disturbed.

Maybe this explains why I haven’t figured out the Green Line to North Station yet. Can’t be that hard, but for someone who travels primarily with Dallas sports teams, Boston is a foreign land.

It’s going to stay that way unless the Mavericks make dramatic changes from their NBA Finals opener. The loss was only an 18-point deficit — actually smaller than their Game 1 defeat at Oklahoma City — but they trailed Boston by 17 after one quarter. The fans here knew this one was in the bag. Until further notice, the Boston crowd respects Luka, hates Kyrie but mostly dismisses the Mavs the way they used to when the Houston Rockets would venture to the Boston Garden for a Finals thrashing.

These people hate LA, always will hate LA, but they are indifferent to Dallas unless there’s a need to pay the Mavs greater attention.

First of all, there’s no shame to be felt if the Celtics move back ahead of the Lakers with an 18th banner. There are six teams in NBA history that reached the Finals with fewer than Boston’s 20 losses — 64-18 in the regular season, 12-2 in the first three rounds. Five of those won titles. The fact that Kyrie Irving helped upset the 2016 Warriors (85-14 upon reaching the Finals) only means he and LeBron James were capable of such a thing eight years ago. Irving and Doncic (mostly Irving) have a long way to go after Game 1 to put that thought back in people’s heads.

To state the obvious, Dallas can’t be looking up at another 37-20 deficit after one quarter Sunday night. It’s not like Luka was the problem — he had seven of the Mavs’ 20 points on 3-of-7 shooting — but he needs a Game 5 at Minnesota first quarter Sunday night. That’s when his 20 points outscored the Wolves and basically locked up the Western Conference finals in the first 12 minutes. Easier said than done when Jaylen Brown and sometimes Jrue Holiday are checking you, but Luka can score on anyone, and I think it’s much easier for Dallas to get him going and have others follow than vice versa.

In the first quarter Sunday night, Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II had a combined one basket on one attempt. The Celtics did a great job of disrupting the pick-and-roll game that confounded Minnesota, but that’s not to say Lively can’t show up looking more like himself and less like a green rookie than he did in Game 1. But the biggest hurdle is on defense where Dallas surrendered 37 points. The Celtics made 7 of 15 3-point attempts in the opening quarter. In an era where every team shoots a lot of 3s, no one makes a greater effort to shoot them in volume than Boston. Their 39.9 attempts per game rank No. 1 of the 16 playoff teams.

The Celtics hit about the same percent (37) as Dallas in the playoffs, but they fire away from all corners. Six different Celtics hit 3s in the first 12 minutes. It’s one thing to try to get in Jayson Tatum’s face. It’s another when you’ve got to remember not to leave Sam Hauser open.

The hardest riddle to solve will continue to be Kristaps Porzingis. Playing his first game in five weeks, Porzingis was on fire in the first quarter Thursday, and you might expect the adrenaline to be down a bit in Game 2. Maybe he will miss a few shots or mistime a block. Regardless, he’s literally a huge energy boost for a team that barely needs one, and while Lively can’t be expected to match that, he can show up with his energy and do what he has done for three rounds.

It’s a tall order and it’s a long list. The people here don’t care for Irving, but they have no ill will beyond that. During Boston’s magnificent run of titles the last 23 years, a Dallas team has never gotten in the way. That’s the Mavs’ task to change.

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