How Celtics Took Commanding 3-0 NBA Finals Lead Over Mavs

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics, NBA News
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics fended off a furious Dallas Mavericks rally, securing a 106-99 victory on Wednesday night to take a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Jayson Tatum scored 31 points adding six rebounds and five assists. Jaylen Brown added 30 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.

Brown also contributed eight rebounds and eight assists, extending Boston’s playoff winning streak to a franchise-record 10 games. The Celtics remain undefeated on the road this postseason, improving to 7-0. With a win on Friday in Dallas, they could clinch their record 18th NBA championship, breaking their tie with the Lakers.

Boston nearly let a 21-point lead slip away with 11 minutes to go, but Tatum stayed poised. “Not really trying to look too much into it,” Tatum said. “The game of basketball is about runs. It’s never going to go like you expected. If you want to be a champion, you have to be resilient in those situations, and we did that tonight.”

The Celtics overcame the absence of Kristaps Porzingis, who was ruled out due to a rare tendon injury in his lower left leg. Boston is 10-1 in these playoffs without him.

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The Mavericks came close to a remarkable comeback, reminiscent of their historic fourth-quarter rally 13 years ago when they overcame a 15-point deficit in Game 2 of the Finals against Miami to win their only title. Boston led 91-70 following a 20-5 run early in the fourth quarter, but Dallas responded with a 22-2 surge, closing within one point with under four minutes left.

Luka Doncic fouled out with 4:12 remaining after an unsuccessful challenge. Kyrie Irving, who scored 35 points, hit a jumper to cut the deficit to one, but Tatum and Brown, with assistance from Derrick White, secured the win. The trio combined for Boston’s final 13 points, pushing the Celtics to the brink of their first title since 2008 and just their second since 1986.

“We just got to make history,” Dereck Lively II said. “We got to go out there and play like our lives are on the line.”

In a game that seemed decided early in the fourth quarter, the score was 93-90 for over three minutes. During this stretch, Doncic was called for a blocking foul on a driving Brown, which led to his disqualification after an unsuccessful challenge.

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Without Doncic, P.J. Washington Jr., Irving, and Tim Hardaway Jr. each missed 3-pointers in the final minute, extending Irving’s losing streak against the Celtics to 13 games, including a previous playoff sweep as a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

“We had a good chance,” Doncic said. “We were close. Just didn’t get it. I wish I was out there.”

The Mavericks used this boost to take their biggest lead of the series, starting with a 22-9 run. Doncic and Irving drove for baskets, and each hit a 3-pointer. The Celtics responded with a 21-9 run to close the first quarter. Sam Hauser hit two of his three first-half 3-pointers to cap off a run that included contributions from Brown and Tatum.

The second quarter was marked by defense, with Boston holding a 5-2 edge nearly six minutes in before Irving and Tatum traded 3-pointers to ignite the scoring. “They came out swinging,” Tatum said. “That was to be expected. They were at home, the crowd was behind them. We expected their first punch.”

After withstanding the initial surge, it seemed the Celtics would cruise after outscoring the Mavericks 35-19 in the third quarter. However, the Mavericks’ late rally kept the game close until Tatum and Brown secured the win.

“We’ve been in those moments a lot,” Brown said. “And we’ve been in those positions, and we’ve lost. It was great to overcome that with my brother, Jayson, and with our team. That was special.”

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The Celtics understand while history is on their side, they have to stay hungry to close out the series and win the ultimate prize, even if their fans were loudly celebrating at American Airlines Center.

“You’ve got to understand we are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable than they are,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “When you understand that you’re vulnerable and your back’s against the wall, you’ve got to fight. And so that’s the mindset that we have to have.”

The series continues on Friday in Game 4, with the Celtics having a chance to close it out.

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