Why Brad Stevens is the Celtics' NBA Finals MVP so far, as Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis lead path to title



After the Boston Celtics dispatched the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, the post-game TV broadcast team went around the table naming their MVP of the series thus far. There were a couple of Jaylen Brown votes, along with one for Jrue Holiday. Then, Bob Myers, architect of four Golden State Warriors championships, went in a different direction with his pick.

Brad Stevens.

A former front-office whiz himself, it makes sense that Myers would stick up for the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Stevens has attempted to fill the large shoes left by Danny Ainge as the head decision-maker in 2021 after eight seasons as Boston’s head coach. And with two Finals games in the books, it’s difficult to argue against Myers’ point.

Kristaps Porzingis, whom Stevens acquired last June, was arguably the Celtics’ best player in their Game 1 blowout win. Coming off the bench for the first time in his career after missing 38 days with a calf injury, Porzingis was absolutely everywhere — shooting over smaller defenders, knocking down deep 3-pointers and repeatedly rejecting Dallas’ attempts at the rim. He was one of the main reasons the Celtics put the game out of reach in the second quarter, and he finished with 20 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes.

He wasn’t quite as prolific in Game 2, but he still put his stamp on the win with 12 points, four rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes. It’s safe to say that the Celtics don’t win either game as handily were it not for Porzingis’ presence on both ends of the floor.

But he wasn’t Stevens’ only prized pickup.

When the Celtics acquired Porzingis, the cost was parting ways with Marcus Smart — a passionate bulldog who was the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year. With the shooting and rim protection they gained with Porzingis, they would also lose perimeter defense and toughness. Or so we thought.

Just before the season started, Damian Lillard’s trade to the Milwaukee Bucks preempted a bidding war for Holiday during his brief tenure with the Trail Blazers. Once again, it was time for Stevens to strike.

Trading away Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, talented but oft-injured big man Robert Williams III and two first-round picks, the Celtics added the final piece to what they hope is a championship puzzle. Losing Smart was supposed to be a detriment, and instead, they gained back a better player in virtually every facet of the game. In addition to his on-court talents, Holiday also carried inherent gravitas as the only player on the Celtics roster with a championship ring. It was almost unfair how well he and Porzingis fit around Jayson Tatum, Brown and Derrick White to become the most talented team in the NBA one-through-five, and their historic regular season was the result.

Now it’s carrying all the way to the Finals, where Holiday absolutely dominated Game 2 with a team-high 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, to go along with 11 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. This is in addition to taking the primary assignment of guarding Kyrie Irving, who has averaged 14 points on 13-for-37 (35%) field goals in the first two games. We all know about Holiday’s defense, but the offensive output is just icing on the cake for a Boston offense that is rife with weapons.

Holiday is about as low-maintenance as a star of his caliber gets, always playing within the system and willing to occupy whatever space helps the offense click. Ironically enough, while the 7-foot-3 Porzingis generally hangs around the perimeter, Holiday has become incredibly effective in the “dunker” spot, from which he almost never dunks. Instead, he uses his strength and touch to finish over, through and around bigger defenders.

When he’s not chilling by the rim, Holiday makes his way to the corners, where he shot a ridiculous 60% on 3s during the regular season — by far the highest mark in the league for anyone with over 90 attempts. It’s almost silly that Holiday, the second-best player on the Bucks’ 2021 championship team, is at times the fifth offensive option for the Celtics, who happily find him for wide-open shots.

Holiday is the poster boy for the sacrifice that the top five Celtics have made this season. He entered the year averaging 19 points, seven assists and 15 field goal attempts per game over his last six seasons, fresh off of an All-Star selection in Milwaukee. This season with Boston, those numbers went down to 12.5 points, five assists and 10 attempts per game.

“I think when you sacrifice together and you do something together, it brings you closer,” Holiday said after Game 2. “I think being able to go through wins and losses and to build something, it means a lot. When you go through things like that, I think it makes you closer, and that’s what this team has done. From one to 15, somebody’s sacrificed something.”

Practically anyone could have told you that Porzingis and Holiday’s skill sets would be a boon to the Celtics, but it takes more than that to succeed at this level. Stevens found two players who would be comfortable taking a hit in terms of personal accolades as long as it meant winning a title, and a coach who would properly utilize them in Joe Mazzulla. As a result, the Celtics are now two wins away from achieving their goal, and — as Myers suggested — Stevens deserves much of the credit.

“[Stevens] put a team together,” Myers said. “Jrue Holiday might have been the best player [in Game 2]. The first game, it might have been Jaylen Brown, might have been Porzingis. That’s the advantage that this Celtics team has.”





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