June 23, 2024

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Derek White, Jr Holiday delivers

Derek White, Jr Holiday delivers

There was widespread belief heading into these Finals that the Mavericks’ best chance would come if the Celtics, who have relied on three-point shooting all year, struggled through a tough night from beyond the arc. That night came down to Game 2, but it didn’t matter, because the Celtics’ 10-for-39 effort from the three-point line was offset by the Mavericks’ 6-for-26.

Luka Doncic scored 32 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and provided 11 assists to lead the Mavericks, but at times he seemed like he was on an island facing the best team in the NBA. The other Mavericks combined to go 2-for-17 from the three-point line.

Jrue Holiday scored 26 points to lead the Celtics, and Jaylen Brown added 21 points. Jayson Tatum made only 6 of 22 shots and scored 18 points, but he recorded 12 assists and 9 rebounds.

For the Celtics, the only worry arrived midway through the fourth quarter, when center Kristaps Porzingis — who returned for Game 1 after missing five weeks with a calf strain — made a bad move while fighting Washington for a rebound and went down. He was limping a bit, went out after about a minute, and didn’t come back for the last 4 minutes and 40 seconds.

He admitted after the match that “something happened,” and that his condition would be evaluated on Monday. He mostly downplayed the situation, insisting he would be ready for Game 3. Celtics coach Joe Mazzola said he had “no concerns” about Porzingis’ leg.

Neither team was able to create much separation through the first three quarters. But with the Celtics leading 65-63, they built a key 10-0 run that was capped by a Holiday layup.

With the Mavericks trailing 97-89, Doncic tried to push the ball into the area before White shot and snatched the ball and Holiday scored a hat-trick. On Boston’s next possession, Holiday chased down an offensive rebound after Tatum’s miss and found White, whose 3-pointer with 3:34 left gave Boston its largest lead, 103-89.

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The Mavericks then took a 9-0 lead and reduced the score to 103-98 after a three-pointer from Doncic with one minute and 15 seconds left in the match. After Tatum’s attempt was blocked by Derrick Jones Jr., the Mavericks rushed the other way with an advantage. But White, one of the game’s elite shot-blocking guards, met Washington in midair and returned his offer.

Notes from the game:

▪ Doncic was downgraded to questionable earlier Sunday due to a chest contusion. Of course, there was never really any doubt that he would play, but he was wearing a big wrap when the starting lineup was introduced.

Once the game started, he seemed unfazed. He converted a fade into the paint on Dallas’ first possession, and didn’t have much trouble getting into his positions for a mid-range jumper. Doncic is constantly looking for a source of motivation. After firing a few shots from the right, he appeared to be barking at a group of fans sitting in the front row there.

He started the second quarter with a jumper, a 3-pointer and a fadeaway in the paint and went into halftime with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

The Celtics mostly continued to play Doncic straight, without sending double teams. Although many of his shots were difficult, they were truly unstoppable.

However, the Celtics will likely point out that the other Mavericks were just 1-for-7 from the three-point line in the first half and, more importantly, the Celtics led 54-51.

Boston started sending more help in the third quarter, and the Mavericks’ shooters couldn’t do anything with their open looks. They started the third 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.

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▪ Porzingis said Saturday that he is still on a minutes restriction, coming off the bench for the second straight game. He made an immediate impact, with two free throws, a block and a follow-up shot. The Mavericks continue to switch smaller defenders to him, and there will be opportunities for more of that.

On one play late in the first quarter, Irving elbowed Porzingis shortly after picking up his second foul. This is an obvious mismatch regardless, but especially so when Irving is doing everything he can to avoid picking up a third foul.

▪ Many were curious to see how Tatum would react on the court after Mavericks coach Jason Kidd called Brown the Celtics’ two-time MVP on Saturday.

It’s impossible to know if Kidd’s words had any impact, but it was another slow night for the Boston star. He smoked a layup on his first shot, then missed a 3-pointer and a baseline jumper shortly after, part of a scoreless 0 for 4 opening quarters.

Tatum was playing the entire first quarter for most of these playoffs, but coach Joe Mazzola reverted to his regular-season style that included a break in the first quarter, perhaps in an attempt to keep Tatum off the trail.

His first points came on a stunt with 9:29 left in the second quarter, but that didn’t ignite his enthusiasm. He followed that up with a pair of turnovers and missed his next three shots.

The Celtics remained tied at 42 points after Tatum’s chaotic opener, however, and Tatum’s eight assists in the first half at least helped negate his 5-point half.

▪ The Mavericks burned their only challenge with a puzzling decision in the first quarter.

Washington was called for fouling White while attempting the rim. The Celtics got the ball back on the play, so Boston probably would have kept the ball even if the Mavericks had won the challenge.

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But they lost it, and were left without another one for the rest of the night.

▪ Holiday has sacrificed more offensive chances than any other Celtic team this season. But during these qualifiers, he continued to provide goals when needed.

Holiday scored eight straight points for Boston in the second quarter and went into the break scoring a team-high 17 on 7-of-9 shooting. His three-pointer after a pass from Tatum in the last minute of the second quarter gave Boston a 54-49 lead, the largest in the first half.

▪ Sometimes the game boils down to the simplest variables.

In the first half on Sunday, the Celtics were 13-for-13 from the foul line and the Mavericks were 5-for-11. Had those two numbers flipped, the Mavericks would have built a comfortable lead.

 NBA players tend to shy away from end-of-quarter fluctuations that are likely to impact their 3-point percentages. But all year, Payton Pritchard has been absolutely fearless on the field. When the Celtics need to get the ball into the zone quickly, Pritchard is their best option. So it was no surprise when Mazzola put him in the game with 3.6 seconds left in the third quarter and the Mavericks put him at the free throw line.

Pritchard sprinted down the court and hit a buzzer-beater off the glass from about 10 feet beyond the right arc. Dallas cut a 13-point deficit to 6, and it looked like great momentum.

“You see players all over the league ignoring that shot or pretending like they want to take it so their numbers don’t get messed up,” Mazzola said. “He takes pride in taking that, and that’s winning basketball.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at [email protected]. follow him @Adam Himmelsbach.