2024 NBA Finals: Game 3 felt like the Mavericks’ best shot

Wednesday’s game felt like the Dallas Mavericks’ last shot at making their NBA Finals series against the Boston Celtics respectable. Back inside the familiar confines of American Airlines Center, coming off of two straight losses, you could sense their desperation from the opening tip.

Luka Doncic matched Jayson Tatum‘s 13 points in the first quarter. Kyrie Irving, in what would be his best offensive game of the series by far, exploded for 11 points in the second quarter to give Dallas a one-point lead at the break.

For a while Wednesday night, it appeared as if the Mavericks would be able to keep pace with Boston’s potent attack. But the wheels fell off out of the locker room, as the Eastern Conference champions outscored them 35-19 in the third quarter. Then Doncic fouled out with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter — which made containing Irving on the perimeter a little easier for the Celtics — and Irving went scoreless down the stretch as Dallas dug themselves into an 0-3 hole.

“Luka picked up his fifth and sixth in a matter of a three-minute or two-minute span. It’s tough,” Irving said. “We still had to figure out a way to win the basketball game. We put our best foot forward, especially being down 21. We easily could have packed up and folded, but we didn’t give up. We kept playing. The guys that were out there, we kept competing. Felt like we gave ourselves a chance to win down the stretch.

“They obviously made some big plays, some big shots. So, you got to give them credit. But we got to play the way we played being down 21 the whole, entire game, playing with that pace, playing with that pride. That’s what’s got us here today. But when you’re going against a good juggernaut offensive team like the Boston Celtics, they’re going to make you pay for mistakes. You got to give them credit.”

Irving, who failed to crack 20 points in the first two games in Boston, finished with a series-high 35 points on 13-of-28 shooting, Doncic had 27 points in just under 38 minutes, and Dallas finished with just eight total turnovers, but it was not enough.

The Celtics shot the ball better, they were just as cautious with the ball, and had their star duo of Tatum and Jaylen Brown. However, Game 3 once again came down to the other guys.

Dallas had an 11-man rotation Wednesday night, and outside of Dereck Lively II, none made a significant impact on the game. The Celtics had an eight-man rotation and still nearly outscored the opposing reserves. And the Mavericks failed to eclipse 100 points for the third straight game.

“I think when you look at experience, we’re all learning what it means to be on this stage and going through it,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “There’s a lot of young players on our side who have never done this before. Just understand, we’ll talk about that, that this experience that we’re going through is a healthy thing. It’s not a bad thing.

“We’re down 3-0. We felt like Game 2 and Game 3 were better for us. That’s the way we have to play. Then offensively we just got to get some other people to step up and make some shots.”

No team has won a playoff series in the NBA after going down 0-3. However, some have come close to a full rally, such as last year’s Celtics, who wound up forcing a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.

Boston learned from Miami’s failure to close it out last postseason, which makes any comeback attempt from Dallas this season even more difficult.

“It’s not over till it’s over,” Doncic said. “We just got to believe. Like I always say, it’s first to four. We’re going to stay together. We lose together, we win together. So, we got to stay together.”