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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Celtics hold off Mavericks’ rally to gain 3-0 advantage in NBA Finals as Luka Doncic fouls out late

Boston forward Jaylen Brown attempts a shot over Dallas guard Luka Dončić in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on Wednesday in Dallas.  (Getty Images)
By Joe Vardon Athletic

DALLAS – If the dynamics of this series, these playoffs or the entire season, for that matter, were going to change, Wednesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals was the time.

The Boston Celtics were on the road and missing center Kristaps Porziņģis with the displaced tendon in his left leg. They trailed by 13 points early, had to hold onto their hats in the headwinds of a furious Dallas Mavericks comeback in the fourth quarter, all with Super Bowl champion quarterback and noted Mavs fan Patrick Mahomes whooping it up on the sideline, a few seats over from Dallas royalty Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.

But the rhythmic beat of a season’s worth of dominance by Boston drums on. All is the same as it’s been since the ball first went skyward in October.

The Celtics received 31 points from Jayson Tatum, and 30 points from Jaylen Brown in outlasting the Dallas Mavericks for a 106-99 win, placing a virtual lock on the 2024 NBA championship.

Boston, easily the NBA’s best regular-season team that is currently riding playoff winning streaks of 10 games overall and seven games on the road, now leads the finals 3-0. No team in league history has ever lost a series in which it won the first three games, and there is a large sample size – 156 teams have built 3-0 leads and went on to win, including 14 in the finals.

There has been no evidence presented to suggest the Celtics won’t follow suit.

The Mavericks trailed by 15 at the end of the third quarter and by 21 early in the fourth, before embarking on what would have been a historic rally had they pulled it off. They outscored Boston 22-2 over a 6½ minute stretch to cut their deficit to 1. Luka Dončić, their superstar, fouled out with 4:12 to go, and Dallas hung in beyond that serious blow.

“We had a good chance; we were close,” said Dončić, who scored 27 points. “We just didn’t get it. I wish I was out there.”

It was a two-point game when Brown rose up with about 1 minute left for a momentum-blunting jumper. The Mavericks had more chances, but P.J. Washington, Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. all missed 3s. Free throws by Tatum with 14.6 seconds remaining put the game out of reach.

Irving enjoyed what was easily his best game of this series, scoring 35 points on 14-of-26 shooting. Washington finished with 13 points and rookie Dereck Lively II added 11 off the bench.

Game 4 at American Airlines Center is at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday. Should the Celtics win, they will set the NBA’s new record with their 18th title.

Derrick White contributed 16 points for Boston, one of just three Celtics to score in double figures. The Celtics connected on 17 3s to the Mavericks’ 9, paced four 3s each from Tatum and White, with Sam Hauser providing three 3s off the bench. Xavier Tillman, a reserve big man who made just eight 3s during the regular-season, played 11 minutes with Porziņģis out and his lone points were, of course, a corner 3.

Brown, the Eastern Conference finals MVP who is making a strong case to win the award for the finals, scored 24 of his 30 after halftime. His emphatic dunk with 7 seconds left in the third finished off a 15-point quarter for him and put Boston up by that many.

The Mavs’ ensuing fourth-quarter comeback – which would have tied an NBA record for the largest deficit overcome at the start of the fourth quarter, conjured memories of something Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said in his pregame news conference before Game 3. He said “If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone and you think you’re about to beat them, you usually get sucker punched.”

It’s a philosophy Mazzulla often shares with his players about the danger in relaxing when you feel victory is in hand.

History suggests Boston has two hands and maybe a foot wrapped around the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and, again, according to the record books, there is nothing the Mavericks will be able to do about it.

“We’re still going to believe until the end,” Dončić said.