The Boston Celtics have stormed through the first three rounds of these NBA Playoffs.

They have gone 12-2 in the postseason so far, including a sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, as they have hardly been challenged over the past six weeks.

The NBA Finals promise to be a different story though as the Dallas Mavericks are unlike any team that they have faced in these playoffs so far.

Nonetheless, the Celtics, who topped the East standings at the end of the regular season with a league-best 64-18 record, will enter the NBA Finals as the heavy favorite to win it all. Perennial NBA All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are expected to lead the way for Boston as usual, but their scoring numbers are likely to be matched–if not surpassed–by their Dallas counterparts Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

This means that if the Celtics are to emerge victorious, they will need their supporting cast led by Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, and Al Horford to continue their strong play in this final round.

However, one wrinkle that could ultimately tilt the scales in favor of Boston is the looming return of Kristaps Porzingis from a calf strain that has sidelined him for over a month now. Porzingis exited the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Miami Heat in the first round with this injury and is set to return right on time for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The fact that Boston had hardly any problem making it this far without Porzingis, who averaged 20.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 57 regular season games, underscores the quality of this team. If he can perform at even just 75% of his usual level, this series might be over as quickly as their first three were.

The 7’2 Porzingis poses a tough match-up for the Mavericks as his ability to score from practically anywhere on the floor gives the Celtics the ability to play practically any style that suits them. His shooting should draw out Dallas’ rim-protectors Daniel Gafford, Dereck Lively II, and PJ Washington whose efforts on the defensive end are a major reason why their team has made it this far.

On the other end of the floor, Porzingis’ length and elite shot-blocking should help Boston manage the threat posed by Doncic and Irving.

Furthermore, the history of Porzingis, who was Doncic’s sidekick until he was traded away before the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline, with this Mavericks team only adds another layer of drama to this high stakes encounter.

The offseason deals that brought in Porzingis and Holiday have paid off handsomely for the Celtics so far, yet how these moves will be remembered in the grand scheme of things still hinges largely on the result of this upcoming best-of-seven. It is only fitting that Porzingis has surfaced as the likely X factor in this series, and given his history with the Mavericks, this underlying storyline only makes these NBA Finals even more captivating for the audience at large.