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The returning stars who could decide the NBA championship

Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis celebrate next to an image of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving celebrating

As the curtain rises on the opening game of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks, two players face their former team in hopes of lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Former Maverick Kristaps Porzingis aims to end Boston’s championship drought dating back to 2008. He faces a Dallas side that last tasted glory in 2011.

And the Mavericks have former Celtic Kyrie Irving, part of a dynamic Dallas backfield that secured a Finals berth with a mix of finesse and grit.

It will be the culmination of a season full of blood, sweat and tears, made even more spicy by the two returning stars.

The ‘Unicorn’ of the Celtics

The Boston Celtics have endured 16 years of near misses, what-ifs and heartbreaking encounters, moments that have conditioned their fans to brace for the worst.

However, as they prepare for their second finals appearance in two years, the C’s now have perhaps the best chance to finally make it happen, courtesy of Porzingis.

Kristaps Porzingis celebrates with Jayson Tatum after scoringKristaps Porzingis celebrates with Jayson Tatum after scoring
Kristaps Porzingis was drafted number four overall by the New York Knicks in 2015 (Getty Images)

Last June, the Celtics made a bold, game-changing decision: trading guard Marcus Smart in a three-team deal to acquire center Porzingis from the Washington Wizards.

This unexpected move sent shockwaves through the fanbase. Smart was the heart of the team, even dying his hair green. It was a move that signaled Boston’s all-in approach to capturing the title.

Porzingis never clicked with superstar Luka Doncic during his time with Dallas, but his development since leaving in 2022 could come back to haunt them if he returns from injury after missing the playoffs thus far.

Dubbed ‘The Unicorn’ for his versatile skills and shooting ability, the 28-year-old could be the X-factor in this best-of-seven series.

Porzingis will force Dallas to have to defend the perimeter a lot more because of his shooting.

It’s a defensive scheme they haven’t used much in the playoffs thus far and his presence behind the arc will create space for stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to exploit, potentially stretching the Mavericks.

Kristaps Porzingis tries to block a shot from Jayson TatumKristaps Porzingis tries to block a shot from Jayson Tatum

Porzingis spent three years in Dallas and played alongside Luka Doncic in his rookie season (Getty Images)

The Celtics have lost just two games in the playoffs, beating both the injury-depleted Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 before dominating the Indiana Pacers with a 4-0 sweep in the Eastern Conference finals .

With the best regular season record and perhaps the strongest, most balanced starting five, the Celtics, led by head coach Joe Mazzulla, may have finally put together the perfect formula for championship success.

An outsider returns to Boston

Kyrie Irving looks disgruntled in a Boston jerseyKyrie Irving looks disgruntled in a Boston jersey
Kyrie Irving played two years in Boston before leaving for the Brooklyn Nets (Getty Images)

For Dallas, all eyes will be on not only how Doncic does in his first Finals, but also on Irving’s controversial return.

One of the league’s most enigmatic and exciting players, Irving has a well-documented and tumultuous past with the Celtics.

His departure from Boston in 2019 left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans, whom he initially told he would sign a new deal before his relationship with the organization soured and ended with a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.

This series offers Irving a chance at redemption, not only by silencing the critics in Boston, but also by showing the world that he can get the job done without LeBron James at his side – the accusation hanging over him has been hanging with Cleveland since his 2016 championship win.

Kyrie Irving stands next to Luka DoncicKyrie Irving stands next to Luka Doncic

Kyrie Irving joined Dallas in February 2023 (Getty Images)

The 32-year-old’s ball control, goal-scoring ability and link-up performances are undeniable. With Doncic he forms one of the most formidable backcourts in recent history.

Doncic has already proven himself as a generational talent. His vision, pitch awareness and prolific goalscoring ability make him a nightmare for any defence.

For Irving, this series is more than just a title shot; it’s a chance to rewrite his story and cement his legacy in a city that once rejected him. For Doncic, it’s an opportunity to take his burgeoning career to historic heights.

Despite their defensive strengths, Boston will have their coverage tested as they try to contain Irving’s explosive attacks and Doncic’s lethal shooting.

The Mavericks, led by head coach Jason Kidd, have had a tougher playoff run than Boston, beating the LA Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But that resilience should serve them well against an elite Celtics team. If their two star guards can impose their will and maintain their high level, the Mavericks have the potential to bring it home.

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