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Jun 10, 2024 5:30 pm

Top-dog status not a concern to team-first Celtics

Jaylen Brown dribbles

BOSTON — Prior to the Celtics’ 105-98 victory over the Mavericks in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, Dallas coach Jason Kidd seemingly tried to pit Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown against each other.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, Kidd referred to Brown as the Celtics’ best player. Both Brown and Tatum were unfazed by the remark, but it later became evident that Boston coach Joe Mazzulla took it to heart.

“I’m really tired of hearing about one guy or this guy or that guy and everybody trying to make it out to be anything other than Celtic basketball,” Mazzulla said following Sunday’s win. “Everybody that stepped on that court today made winning plays on both ends of the floor, is the most important thing.”

Brown scored 21 points and Tatum finished with 18 to go along with 12 assists and nine rebounds in Game 2. However, it was Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard that ended up stealing the spotlight.

Holiday supplied team highs in points with 26 and rebounds with 11, while White sealed the victory by ferociously blocking P.J. Washington’s dunk attempt with 50.5 seconds left in regulation to prevent Dallas from pulling within 103-100. Pritchard gave the Celtics a lift as the buzzer sounded in the third quarter, banking in a 34-foot 3-pointer to put Boston up by nine.

And those plays didn’t go unnoticed by the man who was anointed as the Celtics’ best player just one day earlier.

“We got a lot of weapons on our team, so we just got to trust what we’ve been doing all season long, trust our game plan,” Brown said. “I thought we had a bunch of great looks. If you go back and look in the first half, Sam (Hauser) had a bunch of great looks, D-White had some looks that didn’t go down.

“But we didn’t panic. We kept guarding, we stayed in the game and we kept trusting it and we made enough (Sunday) to win the game. But we expect to shoot the ball better going forward when we get on the road.”

The series now shifts to Dallas for Game 3 on Wednesday, but playing as the visitor has presented few challenges for Boston. The Celtics are 6-0 on the road during the playoffs, and they have won 22 of their past 27 games away from home dating back to the regular season.

“They haven’t lost a game since May something, right? Yeah, they’re hot,” Kidd said of the Celtics. “And not just on the road, but at home. We’ve got to protect home, and that’s it. We’ve got to find a way, continue, again, to build on our defense. Our defense put us in a position to win (Sunday). Unfortunately, our offense didn’t help us.”

Kidd is hoping guard Kyrie Irving can get back on track, as the former Celtic has scored just 28 points on 13-of-37 shooting (35.1 percent) through the first two games of the Finals.

Boston fans were jawing at Irving any time he touched the ball in Games 1 and 2, a reaction stemming from Irving’s decision to leave the Celtics for the Brooklyn Nets once free agency hit in June 2019.

“You have to accept the ups and downs of this. That’s, I would say, the toughest challenge when you’re in a series,” Irving said. “You want to play extremely well, especially when you’re playing in a Finals. … (Sunday’s loss) wasn’t all on me, but I’m definitely taking the majority of it because my teammates look to me to convert a lot of these shots and ease the burden of not just Luka (Doncic) but everyone else and settle our team.

“We definitely made our dinner on the defensive end, but now offensively I have to play better.”

Doncic posted a triple-double on Sunday, racking up 32 points, 11 boards and 11 assists. Washington had 17 points and Irving chipped in 16.

“At the end of the day, it’s basketball, away or home,” Doncic said. “We’ve just got to play better basketball to win.”

–Nick Galle, Field Level Media

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