Duke basketball will have its fingerprints all over the NBA Finals

With three Duke alums set to play prominent roles for Boston and Dallas, the NBA Finals could be decided by which Blue Devil alum steps up the most.
Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks
Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks / Tim Heitman/GettyImages

Duke fans of a certain age can remember the time a couple of decades ago when the program was criticized for the lack of success its alums had in the NBA. Those days are well in the past now as Duke products are dominating the Association.

This year, three Duke products will be battling it out in the NBA Finals and each plays a prominent role for his team. In fact, it could be a Duke alum who tips the scales in what should be an exciting series between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks.

Of course, Boston is led by All-Star Jayson Tatum, one of the ten best players in the NBA. This season, the former Blue Devil averaged 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.

A five-time All-Star, he was named an All-NBA First Team honoree this season for the third time in his career. What's more, in the playoffs, he's averaging 26.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

“Obviously, we fell short of our ultimate goal last year, lost in the conference finals,” said Tatum who averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in his lone season at Duke, 2016-17. “So I think we've just applied everything we learned to this season and this postseason and it's been working really well."

While Boston will be looking for its 18th NBA title, the Mavericks are looking to win just their second in franchise history. To help Dallas try to pull the upset, Duke alums Kyrie Irving and Dereck Lively II will have to be at their best.

Of course, Irving's situation provides plenty of drama for the Finals. After all, his time as a Boston Celtic from 2017-19 didn't exactly end on the greatest of terms.

“I had a rough time there when I was in Boston," the 32-year-old said, "again, just dealing with a death in my family and dealing with a lot of off-court stuff that I wasn’t ready to handle. So now that I’m in a great place to be able to vocalize how I’m feeling, I’m ready to go back into Boston, have fun with my teammates. I know we’re going to be locked in.”

This year, his first full season with Dallas, Irving averaged 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. In the playoffs, when he typically shines, he's put up 22.8 points per game.

The 8-time NBA All-Star is looking for his second NBA crown. In 2016, he helped the Cleveland Cavilers win it all by taking down the Golden State Warrior's 73-win team.

Trying to help Irving bring a title to Dallas will be Lively. Just a rookie, he's been a breath of fresh air for a Mavericks squad that has struggled to find quality post players in the past.

This season, he averaged 8.8 points and 6.9 boards per game as a rookie. In the postseason he's kept up that pace with 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds on average.

Thursday night, as the Mavericks closed out the Western Conference Finals, Lively returned from a strained neck that caused him to miss game four of the series on Tuesday to score nine points, grab eight rebounds, and block three shots.

Boston will be the favorite in this series. After all, thier 64-18 regular-season record was tops in the NBA.

However, Dallas is playing elite basketball right now and much of that has to do with the Mavericks' two Duke alums. So it is fair to say that between Tatum, Irving, and Lively, the NBA Finals could come down to which Duke alums are able to get the best of their fellow Blue Devils.