Luka Doncic, Mavericks dodge Finals sweep by Celtics

DALLAS — Facing an unexpected sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving vowed that the Dallas Mavericks would “bazooka” and “hang our shots by a thread.”

The Mavericks played so freely during Friday’s 122-84 Game 4 win at American Airlines Center that Derek Lively II got the party started by hitting a shot normally reserved for his teammates. Called into action early in the first quarter, the rookie center hit his first three-point attempt of the season from the right corner to give Dallas a 13-11 lead midway through the first period.

The Mavericks never looked back, building a double-digit cushion in the first quarter and taking a 61-35 halftime lead against a confident Celtics in Monday’s Game 5 at TD Garden for a second chance to capture their first championship since 2008. Boston’s embarrassing no-show performance tied for the third-worst playoff loss in franchise history, topped only by a 47-point loss to the Orlando Magic in 1995 and a 44-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017. Dallas’ 38-point victory was the second-largest playoff margin in franchise history.

“We don’t have to complicate it,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “It wasn’t surgery. Our team was ready to go. We took a stand. We were desperate. The hardest thing in this league is to close the door against a team that has nothing to lose. You saw that tonight. [The Celtics] Let go of the rope quickly.”

Lively’s three-pointer wasn’t exactly unprecedented — he made two in his freshman season at Duke — but it pleased the eager home crowd and eased the spirit of the Mavericks, who had struggled to score in the first three games of the series. Notable criticism after Luka Doncic fouled out late in a tight Game 3.

With the pressure temporarily relieved, Doncic finished with 29 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes, and Dallas produced quality scoring for the first time against Boston’s stout defense. Five Mavericks scored in double figures, and the Mavericks went 15 for 37 (40.5 percent) on three-pointers – their best shooting performance outside of the Finals.

“[Doncic] Has been doing everything for us,” Kidd said. “He played his game tonight. We talked about playing fast and I thought he set the pace for us. There is no other Luke. He is great. He has been good. He is one of the best players in the world. As much as we like to criticize, he’s a hell of a player.

Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis missed his second straight game with a left ankle injury, and the Mavericks continued to capitalize on his absence by finding high-quality opportunities in the paint. Irving added 21 points, four rebounds and six assists, snapping his personal 13-game losing streak against his former team, the Celtics.

After Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla preached against complacency the past three days, his team’s offense started out flat and got even more flat as the game unfolded. Jayson Tatum scored 15 points — all in the first half — but it wasn’t enough for Boston to pull off its first Finals sweep since the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors. Jaylen Brown, the early favorite for Finals MVP, had a poor performance with 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting, and was out of sync from the opening tip.

“I think it’s the most stagnant we’ve ever been in this series,” Tatum said. “[This was] Owning our spot on the offensive end is the worst job, and [not] We do what we want to do instead of them forcing us to do it. We did well in the first three games. This, we did not.

While thousands of Celtics fans were looking forward to a title celebration in Texas, their pregame anticipation was dashed early in the second half. Boston suffered its first playoff loss in eight road games, and the loss snapped a 10-game hitting streak from its second-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Dallas is a great team,” said Mazzulla, who avoided criticizing the Celtics. “We have to earn it. [Our effort] Not as good as Dallas. Theirs was much better.”

Dallas, held under 100 points in each of the first three Finals games, reached that threshold by 48 with just over nine minutes remaining. Late in the third quarter, Lively brought down the house with back-to-back dunks. Mazzulla pulled his starters with 15 minutes left in the game. Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. let out screams of joy and “Mavs in seven!” Chants broke a month-long slump to finish with 15 points on five three-pointers.

For Doncic, who was angry after the Game 3 loss, the big win led to a big postgame smile and continued hope that Dallas could make NBA history. Teams like the Celtics who have won the first three games of a seven-game series are 156-0 in NBA playoff history and 14-0 in the Finals.

“We’re going to believe until the end,” Danczyk said. “We just have to keep going. I have a lot of confidence in this team that we can do that. … Everybody played with a lot of energy. That’s what we have to do. We have to think the same way in Game 5 in Boston.

The Celtics will have two off days to figure out why they don’t have the energy needed to close out the series in compelling fashion. As the Mavericks proved in the Western Conference Finals against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a Game 5 masterpiece has the power to erase all memories of a Game 4 dud.

“They played better than us,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “They clearly outplayed us. It’s hard to take, but that’s the truth. One thing I can tell you about our team is that when we were down, we responded time and time again.

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