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Luka Doncic, Mavericks respond with blowout victory over Celtics to avoid sweep in NBA Finals

It was over before the end of the third quarter.

The Dallas Mavericks live to fight another day, avoiding a 4-0 series sweep with a 122-84 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night.

And miraculously, they did it on the defensive end, holding the Celtics to just 35 points in the first half and playing with the desperation of a team facing not just elimination, but a sweep on the biggest stage in basketball.

Maybe it was the scathing comments made by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, whose unpacking of Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic’s defensive effort and whining to officials made its rounds about social media moments after Game 3.

“I’m standing here in the Mavericks’ tunnel. Over there is the Celtics’ tunnel. That’s where the winners are. If Luka’s ever gonna be a winner coming out of this tunnel here, he’s going to have to use what’s happened in this Final as a learning experience,” Windhorst said. “His defensive performance is unacceptable. He is a hole on the court, the Celtics are attacking him, and they are ahead in this series because they have attacked him defensively. And you’ve got a situation here where Luka is complaining about the officiating. They have begged him. They have talked with him. They have pleaded with him. He is costing his team because of how he treats the officials.

“He is a brilliant player. He does so many things well. They are here because of how he did. His performance in this game is unacceptable and the reason why the Mavericks are not gonna win. He’s gotta get over this, and the fact that he came out after the game and blamed the officials showed me he’s nowhere close yet. So maybe over the summer, somebody will get to him, because nobody with the Mavericks or anybody else in his life has. And that’s why the Mavericks are at this point. They’re never going to get to this tunnel with the trophy if he doesn’t improve those aspects of his game.”

Message received loud and clear.

Doncic finished with 29 points, five rebounds and five assists, but his three steals were atypical of his usual, oftentimes lousy effort on the defensive end.

His teammates followed suit, holding Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to a combined 25 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field. Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla waved the white flag, emptying the bench with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.

But can they do it again?

And can they do it in Boston, where the series will shift for Game 5 in front of one of the rowdiest fan bases in all of sports just one win shy of hanging its 18th NBA championship banner from the TD Garden rafters?

Facing a sweep in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Mavericks, 105-100, before the Mavs went on the road to close the series in the Twin Cities in Game 5.

That’s because there’s both an emotional and physical toll on teams tasked with crawling out of a hole no team has ever successfully overcome.

Of the 156 teams in NBA history to take a 3-0 playoff series lead, all 156 went on to ultimately win the series. Ninety-five of those 156 teams ended the series in a sweep, 46 teams wrapped things up in Game 5, 11 teams closed the series in six, and just four reached a dramatic Game 7.

Those four teams were the 1951 Knicks, the 1994 Denver Nuggets, the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers and, of course, the 2023 Celtics, who came back from down 0-3 to force a Game 7 against the Miami Heat, who ultimately won the series in an upset to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals.

History is not on Dallas’ side.

Momentum, however, would like to have a word, and the Mavericks’ thorough unpacking of the Celtics breathed new life into a lopsided series.

And the last place the Celtics want to be is up 3-2 with the series shifting back to Dallas for Game 6 back on their own home floor.


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