2024 NBA Finals: How the Celtics and Mavericks found key pieces and built title contenders

The Boston Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals to make their second trip to the NBA Finals in the last three seasons. Boston hasn't won a title since 2008, when the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a six-game series, and the organization has been patiently building around its budding superstar, Jayson Tatum, and the MVP of the Eastern Conference finals, Jaylen Brown.

Coming out of the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks took care of the Minnesota Timberwolves in five games and are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011, when they won their first and only title. Mavs head coach Jason Kidd was a player on that team 13 years ago and now has the chance to win as a coach. Some speculated that the Mavs' unique backcourt of ball-dominant players in Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving would clash, but the front office has done a fantastic job adding complementary pieces around the All-Star duo. Dallas' playoff run has been helped by key trades in February (P.J. Washington, Daniel Gafford) and smart draft selections in the last two seasons (Dereck Lively III and Jaden Hardy).

Each franchise had a unique road to building its team. Here’s a look at how the key players on both rosters came aboard.

Boston, MA - April 21: Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, guard Jrue Holiday, and guard Jaylen Brown celebrate the win. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Jrue Holiday has been a welcome addition to the Celtics. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Celtics selected Tatum with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Markelle Fultz, No. 1, and Lonzo Ball, No. 2, were picked before Tatum). The 6-foot-8 wing was a top-three recruit coming out of high school and chose the Duke Blue Devils over North Carolina, Kentucky and his hometown school of Saint Louis University. Tatum missed eight games during his one year at Duke due to a foot injury and averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He was named to the ACC All-Freshman team and was a third team All-ACC selection before declaring for the draft.

Tatum had a monster rookie season and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. His most memorable moment of his rookie year was a poster dunk on LeBron James during the Eastern Conference finals in Game 7.

"I have that picture framed and hanging in my house," Tatum told Yahoo Sports last year. "It was a big moment for me, especially just being my rookie year and in a game like that."

Tatum is a five-time NBA All-Star, has three All-NBA First Team selections and won a gold medal for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He has been touted as the next young superstar in the NBA, and getting over the hump and winning a ring will solidify his status as one of the best players in the league.

Brown was the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft after playing one season at Cal. With Brown being from Atlanta, it was a bit of a shocking decision when he selected the Bears over Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan and North Carolina. The 6-6 guard averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists before declaring for the draft.

Brown was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team and had a productive role in his first year off the bench. The chemistry of Brown and Tatum has been questioned over the years, but both players have said repeatedly that they like playing with one another and the pair has the Celtics playing their best basketball in this postseason run.

Brown is a three-time NBA All-Star and is averaging 25.3 points and 6.1 rebounds during the playoffs.

Holiday was part of the Damian Lillard blockbuster trade that originally sent him to Portland before he was traded to the Celtics for Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon and two future first-round picks. Holiday, 33, is in his 15th season and has been instrumental in ball movement and leadership for the Celtics, averaging 12.5 points and 4.8 assists per game.

Holiday was the No. 2 recruit coming out of high school in 2008 and played one year at UCLA before he was the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, selected by the Philadelphia 76ers. Holiday played four seasons with the 76ers before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans where he played seven seasons. He won a ring with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021, where he played for three years, before landing in Boston this season.

The 6-4 guard is a two-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection. He was also named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team this year.

This is White's third season with the Celtics after he previously spent five seasons in San Antonio. White was an under-the-radar recruit and didn't have a single high-major Division I offer coming out of high school. He grew three inches after his senior year in high school and played three seasons at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs before transferring to Colorado for his senior season. The Spurs selected White with the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

White was traded to the Celtics in February 2022 for Romeo Langford, Josh Richardson and a 2022 first-round pick. He has been the defensive glue for the Celtics since joining the team and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2023 and 2024. White averaged 16.8 points, 6.5 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.1 steals during the Eastern Conference finals.

Porziņģis, Boston’s starting center all season, has been sidelined with an injury since Game 4 of the first round. He is expected to return for Game 1 of the Finals but whether he will start is unclear. Head coach Joe Mazzulla said Porziņģis has participated in drills during practice and is day-to-day.

Porziņģis was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft that came as a shock to all the Knicks fans in the building. Originally from Latvia, he played three seasons in Spain before hitting the NBA. Porziņģis played eight seasons with the Knicks, Mavericks and Wizards before being picked up by the Celtics last summer in a three-team deal that sent Marcus Smart to the Grizzlies and Tyus Jones to the Wizards. Porziņģis has averaged 20.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks this season and will be huge for the Celtics in his return.

Horford, 37, is in his 17th season and has spent six total years in Boston in two stints. He has been incredibly reliable in the playoffs, stepping into the starting lineup for Porziņģis. He shot 39.3% from 3-point range and knocked down seven 3s in Game 3 against the Pacers.

Horford was the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, selected by the Atlanta Hawks, after playing three seasons at Florida and winning back-to-back national titles. Horford is a five-time NBA All-Star, was an NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection (2018) and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2008.

Dončić and Trae Young will always be tied together after the Hawks originally drafted Dončić with the third overall pick in 2018 and then traded him to the Mavericks for Young and a 2019 first-round pick. The 6-7 Slovenian guard wreaked havoc overseas in the Euroleague prior to hitting the NBA. Dončić played three seasons for Real Madrid and was the youngest player, at 18, to be named the Euroleague MVP for the 2017-18 season.

Once his NBA career started, it became clear Dončić was the franchise-changing player the Mavs would be building around. He won Rookie of the Year, is a five-time NBA All-Star and was a finalist for MVP honors this past season. Dončić is nearly averaging a triple-double in the playoffs and put up 32.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists during the Western Conference finals.

Irving was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, after playing only eight games at Duke before suffering a foot injury. He returned for the NCAA tournament and led Duke to the Sweet 16, solidifying his status as the top overall prospect. Irving has been one of the best point guards in the NBA for 14 seasons and won an NBA championship with the Cavs in 2016.

Irving was part of the "Big 3" in Brooklyn when the Nets brought in Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, but the high expectations never panned out. Irving asked for a trade prior to the 2022 season and was finally traded to the Mavs in February 2023. He has averaged 26.3 points and 5.6 assists in two seasons in Dallas and has scored 30-plus points six times during the playoffs.

Washington was traded to the Mavs in February 2024 for Seth Curry and Grant Williams and has flourished in his new role. Washington is originally from the Dallas area and played his high school ball at a prep school in Las Vegas before playing two seasons at Kentucky. The 6-8 forward was the No. 12 pick in 2019, selected by the Charlotte Hornets.

Washington has found added freedom offensively with the spacing Irving and Dončić provide. He is averaging 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in the postseason and has recorded three double-doubles.

Gafford also joined the Mavs in February and contributed immediately, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds in his first game. Gafford, Washington and rookie center Dereck Lively II have added a defensive presence and rim protection for Dallas this season.

Gafford played two seasons at Arkansas before entering the 2019 NBA Draft. The Chicago Bulls selected the 6-10 center with the 38th pick. Gafford spent two seasons with the Bulls before being traded to the Wizards where he spent four seasons and then was traded to Dallas for Richaun Holmes and draft compensation.

During the Western Conference finals, Gafford stepped up during Lively's absence (neck sprain) and helped control the paint against Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. Gafford also helped set the tone in Game 2, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and five blocks in 21 minutes.

Jones has spent the past nine seasons jumping around from team to team, playing for five different franchises. The 6-7 wing played one season at UNLV before going undrafted in 2016. He played for the Sacramento Kings' summer league team before joining the Phoenix Suns for two seasons.

Before landing in Dallas, Jones played two seasons with the Bulls and declined his player option, eventually signing with the Mavs in August 2023.

Jones hit key shots in the last three games of the Oklahoma City series in the Western Conference semifinals, scoring a career playoff-high 22 points (4-for-6 from 3) in Game 6.

Lively was originally selected by the Thunder in the 2023 NBA Draft before being traded to the Mavericks for Cason Wallace. The 7-1 center has been one of the most impactful rookies this year and a pick-and-roll dream for both Dončić and Irving.

Lively was the top recruit coming out of high school, a McDonald's All American, and chose Duke over Kentucky, Michigan and Penn State. He had an underwhelming freshman year in Durham but was incredible during the pre-draft process, catapulting him into the lottery.

Lively suffered a neck sprain during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals but returned in Game 5, playing 25 minutes and finishing with nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three assists.