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Jun 15, 2024 12:46 pm

Down 3-1, Mavs striving to make history against Celtics

luka doncic celtics

Luka Doncic wasn’t going to let the Dallas Mavericks go down quietly.

With Dallas facing a 3-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, Doncic rose to the occasion and led the Mavericks to a 122-84 shellacking of the Boston Celtics on Friday night in Game 4 on his home court.

Doncic went for 29 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals, a performance that virtually erased a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 3 that subjected the Dallas star to scrutiny from media across the country.

In that game, the Mavericks trailed by 21 following a Derrick White 3-pointer with 11:07 left in the game before mounting a feverish rally that got them within 93-90 with 6:11 to go. But with 4:12 remaining, Doncic stepped in front of Jaylen Brown to try and draw a charge and was called for a blocking foul — his sixth personal.

Dallas challenged the call, which stood, sending Doncic to the bench for the remainder of the contest. Doncic committed four of his fouls in the final quarter.

Kyrie Irving later sank a jumper to make it a one-point game, but without Doncic, the Mavericks never found a way to move in front, leading to the 3-0 series deficit.

In Dallas coach Jason Kidd’s eyes, a lot of the criticism was unwarranted, and Doncic proved why on Friday.

“He was Luka. He’s been Luka. There wasn’t a different Luka out there,” Kidd said following Game 4. “He played at a high level. He was great. He’s been great. He’s one of the best players in the world. As much as we want to criticize, he’s a hell of a player.”

And although Kidd didn’t say anything to Doncic directly, Doncic was pleased to hear that his coach was sticking up for him.

“That speaks a lot about him. He always has players’ backs. He always supports us,” Doncic said. That’s a big thing, to have a coach like that.”

Still, the Mavericks have an uphill battle down 3-1 in the series. NBA teams to lose the first three games of a best-of-seven playoff series are 0-156 — 0-14 in the finals — but making history is still on the table for Dallas.

“Our group was ready to go. They were ready to celebrate,” Kidd said of why Game 4 played out the way it did. “Understand, we made a stand. We were desperate. We got to continue to keep playing that way. … The hardest thing in this league is to close the door when you have a group that has nothing to lose. (Friday) you saw that.”

If the Mavericks want to take another step toward the greatest comeback in league history, they will now have to take care of business in Boston on Monday. Celtics veteran Al Horford said his team should have no problem moving on from the ugly Game 4 performance.

“You know, after we won Game 1, we put that behind us,” Horford said. “You know, Game 2, kind of same thing and so on, and we are at this point now. … We have to take some things that we can be better at and try to fix them, and then you know, others kind of throw them out and just kind of do that and make sure that we come out and we play Celtics basketball.

“I think ultimately that’s what it comes down to for us, and there’s a lot of things that we can control and that I expect us to be much better on Monday.”

Dallas lost Games 1 and 2 in Boston, with Irving, a former Celtic who burned bridges with the organization by signing with the Brooklyn Nets in July 2019, getting berated by fans any time the ball was in his hands.

However, Irving said he believes the Mavericks will be ready to combat the hectic environment this time around.

“When we go to Boston, there’s going to be a bunch of (fans) yelling a whole bunch of crazy stuff still, but I think we’ve been able to grow and face kind of this adversity head on,” Irving said. “We’re figuring out each other in a crazy way during the highest stage of basketball. It’s a beautiful thing, but it also can be chaotic if you don’t know how to stay poised through it.

“I think we’re figuring out each other throughout those phases.”

–Nick Galle, Field Level Media

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