How Celtics Took 2-0 NBA Finals Lead Over Mavs

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics, NBA News, Dallas Mavericks
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics’ quest for an unprecedented 18th NBA championship continued in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, with a 105-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Jrue Holiday led the scoring with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Derrick White added a crucial chase-down block to seal the win. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown may not have had their usual shooting nights, but they made up for it with their passing and defense. Tatum had 12 assists and nine rebounds, while Brown scored 21 with three steals.

Luka Doncic had a triple-double for the Mavericks, with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Celtics’ balanced attack.

“That’s why they are the No. 1 team in the NBA with the No. 1 record,” Doncic said. “They have a lot of great players. Basically, anybody can get off.”

Doncic was downgraded from probable to questionable after Dallas’ morning shootaround, with a thoracic contusion added to a list of injuries, including a right knee sprain and left ankle soreness.

“It’s not all on him. It’s a team,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of Doncic. “He put us in a position. He was really good tonight. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get over the hump. We’ve got to find someone to join Luka and (Kyrie Irving) in that scoring category.”

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Updates

The Celtics’ win was a testament to their teamwork and depth. Many options attacked the paint, particularly Tatum, commanding the focus of the Mavericks’ defensive game-planning efforts.

“How they play together is sacred,” Holiday said. “It’s something that can’t be broken.” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla echoed the sentiment, saying, “Everybody that stepped on that court today made winning plays on both ends of the floor.”

It’s been a struggle for the Mavericks to receive much offensive firepower outside of Doncic in this series. Kyrie Irving has been particularly cold, missing all eight of his three-point attempts, scoring 12 points in Game 1 and 16 in Game 2, despite high expectations of superstar impact.

“A little disappointed in myself not being able to convert a lot more of my opportunities in the lane,” Irving said. “My teammates look for me to convert a lot of shots and lessen the burden not only on Luka but the entire team.”

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Updates

In Game 2, the Mavericks struggled with their 3-point shooting, with Doncic being the exception. Doncic shot 4 of 9 (44.4%) from beyond the arc, while his teammates combined to shoot a dismal 2 of 17 (11.8%). This trend has continued throughout the series, with Doncic making 8 of 21 (38.1%) of his three-point attempts, while his teammates have managed only 5 of 32 (15.6%). With 15 turnovers in Game 2, this is a challenging set of circumstances to attack.

“We’ve got to make shots. We’ve got to make free throws and less turnovers,” Doncic said. “Those three things I think are the key for a win — to win.”

Kidd feels they must find a scoring option outside Doncic and Irving to take pressure away from the superstars. “We’ve got to find someone to join Luka and Kyrie in that scoring category,” Kidd said.

Dallas has to find a way to close out games after getting out to strong starts then having the lead fade throughout the game. The Mavericks jumped out to a 13-6 edge after Irving made a pull-up jumper in what appeared to be the start of a strong outing with an efficient eight points, then held onto a 28-25 lead through the first period. Doncic scored 26 points in the first half, but a 9-0 run midway through the second period put Boston ahead to begin a back-and-forth stretch.

Boston was up 54-49 at halftime, then outscored Dallas 29-23 in the third quarter to take control. After the Mavericks made it close, Payton Pritchard‘s banked half-courter at the third-quarter buzzer gave Boston an 83-74 lead, and the Celtics never looked back.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Updates

White’s chase-down block against P.J. Washington in transition with 28 seconds left sealed the win, and the Celtics celebrated their second straight win in the NBA Finals. As Brown said, “Derrick’s block was huge. It’s plays like that which make us a great team.”

The Mavericks did try different approaches, including playing Dante Exum more to have a third ball handler next to Doncic and Irving while having his defensive impact. Dallas was able to put Doncic in more off-ball actions and get him the ball in favorable spots by moving him around the half-court. That produced positive results, along with using bigger perimeter combinations to favor size and athleticism, especially when Doncic or Irving were the only superstar on the court by going away from Jaden Hardy and Tim Hardaway Jr. Nothing can overcome such poor perimeter shooting and turnovers, though.

Boston has continued to do a great job of aggressive attacking the paint while spreading out the Mavericks. They have kept a guard in the dunker spot often, usually Irving’s man when possible, to stress Dallas’ defense by making the opposition pick between zoning up a big or giving up an unfavorable matchup. With Irving being in an interior help position, the Celtics can take advantage of his lack of size. There has continued to be a lot of hunting of Doncic at the point of attack to get by him and make him work as well. Dallas must tighten up guarding on the perimeter since it’s far from Doncic getting beaten off the dribble, followed by making extra efforts.

NBA NEWS & RUMORS: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Updates

The Mavericks tightened up guarding the perimeter in Game 2, with the Celtics shooting 10 of 39 (25.6%) after making 16 of 42 (38.1%) in the series opener. But again, if the interior is being exploited while timely 3-pointers are still falling for Boston, it’s a challenging set of circumstances to overcome.

The series now shifts to Dallas for Games 3 and 4, with the Celtics looking to keep their momentum by playing with a balanced approach. The Celtics have not lost on the road this postseason, and they’re looking to keep that streak alive.

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