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Jun 11, 2024 7:27 pm

Mavericks have to reach ‘higher level’ to avoid 3-0 hole vs. Celtics

kyrie irving

DALLAS — The NBA Finals enters a pivotal Game 3 with two distinct possibilities: the Boston Celtics take a commanding 3-0 lead and inch closer to the franchise’s first title since 2008, or the Dallas Mavericks show some life and start to turn the tide of what has been a one-sided series so far.

Boston is in the driver’s seat based on league history, as 31 of 36 teams who had a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals went on to win it. So, what’s the Celtics approach going into Game 3 as they look to extend their perfect road record in the playoffs to 7-0?

“Trying to be the hungrier team,” Boston guard Jrue Holiday said. “We’re going to go out there and try and execute a game plan.”

The Celtics have proven to be the deeper, more talented team early on. Boston has been winning despite struggling on the offensive end such as shooting just 10 of 39 (25.6 percent) from 3-point range in Game 2.

The Mavs, meanwhile, can’t rely solely on Luka Doncic, who posted a triple-double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 2, a 105-98 loss at Boston. Doncic put together that performance after being listed as questionable for the game. It was revealed that he sustained a chest injury in Game 1 to go along with lingering issues with his right knee and left ankle.

Doncic, who is probable for Game 3, addressed his status on Tuesday, saying: “I feel good. I don’t want to get in any more details, but I feel good.”

The bigger question for the Mavs is finding a way to get Doncic’s top running mate, Kyrie Irving, going after a slow start. In the two games in Boston, Irving averaged just 14 points on a combined 13-for-37 shooting, including 0-for-8 from long range. If Dallas wants to get back in the series, Irving needs to find a way to make a greater impact.

“They’re not going to stop pressing us, stop their pace, stop testing us on both ends of the floor,” Irving said. “We know what we’re in for. But now we have to raise it to an even higher level, and it starts with me.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done against a Boston defense that is dynamic and versatile. The Celtics have used multiple defenders to slow down the Mavs’ backcourt with Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Jayson Tatum all being options to provide different looks against Doncic and Irving.

Offensively, the Celtics have gotten it done despite a couple of off nights from Tatum, a five-time All-Star and first-team All-NBA selection for three straight seasons. Holiday stepped up in Game 2, scoring a team-best 26 points. In Game 1, Brown led the team with 22 points.

Tatum is taking it all in stride, acknowledging that he has to be a better shooter but taking pride by making an impact in other ways. He’s also just one good night away from changing the narrative.

“One game, I could explode. All the percentages and things like that could change,” Tatum said. “So, it’s just that mindset of I’m one game away or whatever that means.”

On Boston’s injury front, center Kristaps Porzingis is hopeful he’ll be able to play after sustaining a left leg injury late in Game 2. The Celtics announced it is unrelated to Porzingis’ previous right calf injury. If Porzingis is cleared to play in Game 3, it would be his first appearance in Dallas since being traded by the Mavs in February 2022.

Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said the decision on Porzingis’ status – listed Tuesday as questionable — will come down to the medical staff.

“He’s doing anything and everything he can to be ready for the game tomorrow. It’s a serious injury,” Mazzulla said. “At the end of the day, our team and the medical team is not going to put him in any bad situations.”

— Drew Davison, Field Level Media

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