Celtics aren’t panicking after ‘ass kicking’ by Mavericks in Game 4


“These are the moments that can make you or break you. We have to reassemble.”

Celtics aren’t panicking after ‘ass kicking’ by Mavericks in Game 4
The Celtics were run out of the building at American Airlines Center on Friday. (Danielle Parhizkaran/Globe Staff)

Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics had no cause for alarm in the minutes leading up to Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night.

Already buoyed by a commanding 3-0 series lead, the Celtics were not lacking in confidence against the Dallas Mavericks — especially with a championship within their grasp. 

Taking to the court on the brink of an NBA title stands as uncharted territory for most of Boston’s roster. But there was little evidence to point to this postseason that raised doubt about the Celtics’ chances of completing a decisive sweep of Dallas at American Airlines Center. 

And then the ball was tipped. And things went decidedly downhill after that. 

“An ass kicking,” Derrick White said of Boston’s performance in Game 4. “That’s the simplest way right there.”

By the time the dust had settled, the Celtics walked off the court in Dallas the recipients of a 122-84 thrashing at the hands of the Mavericks — putting a halt to Boston’s hopes of clinching a title in four games. 

Mazzulla and his staff would be well within their rights to burn the tape after such a lopsided defeat. But rather than focus on Game 5, Mazzulla heaped plenty of praise on the Mavericks for keeping their season alive. 

“Preparation doesn’t guarantee an automatic success,” Mazzulla said. “And so I thought we had a great process. I thought we had a great shootaround. Thought we had a great film session yesterday. I thought the guys came out with the right intentions. I just didn’t think it went our way, and I thought Dallas outplayed us. They just played harder.” 

Boston’s shooting woes (36.3 percent from the field) hampered its ability to keep pace with Dallas — with the Celtics’ 35 points scored in the first half standing as the fewest scored in a half by Boston during Mazzulla’s tenure as coach. 

But it was Boston’s lack of effort and rebounding woes that allowed a desperate Dallas team to put Friday’s game away in short order. The Mavericks held a 13-4 edge in offensive rebounds in Game 4, outscoring Boston 16-2 in second-chance points. 

Add in a surge in three-point shooting from Dallas’ supporting cast (14-of-23 from 3-point range), and it came as little surprise that Mazzulla pulled his starters for good with 3:18 left in the third quarter. 

But even with the lopsided loss, Jaylen Brown stressed that the Celtics are not suddenly short on confidence — especially with Game 5 moving back to Boston on Monday night.

“These are the moments that can make you or break you. We have to reassemble,” Brown said. “We have to look at it and learn from it, and then we’ve got to embrace it and attack it. It’s going to be hard to do what we’re trying to do. We didn’t expect anything to be easy, but it’s no reason to lose our head.

“Tip your cap to Dallas. They came out and played well, and we’ve just got to be better on the next one.”

The odds are certainly against Dallas in the NBA Finals. So far, no team in NBA history has won a playoff series after trailing, 0-3. But Jayson Tatum acknowledged that Boston found itself in a similar spot last spring against the Heat — clawing out of an 0-3 deficit and forcing a Game 7 before losing on Causeway Street.

Tatum expects a similar mindset from the Mavericks for however long they can keep their season alive. 

“We were down 0-3 and we were essentially fighting for our lives,” Tatum acknowledged. “So very short answer, yeah, we understand what it’s like from their point of view, and you know, they came out super aggressive. They played extremely fast and took more shots than we did. You know, they were really concentrating on attacking the offensive glass. They got way more rebounds than we did.

“So, you know, they played harder tonight. Obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball well at all. It’s something that we can learn from.”

Even with the unsightly results put forward on Friday, Al Horford stressed that the Celtics are not going to get caught up in their first loss since May 9. 

“After we won Game 1, we put that behind us. You know, Game 2, kind of same thing and so on, and we are at this point now,” Horford said. “You know, we have to take some things that we can be better at and try to fix them, and then you know, others kind of throw them out and just kind of do that and make sure that we come out and we play Celtics basketball.

I think ultimately that’s what it comes down to for us, and there’s a lot of things that we can control and that I expect us to be much better on Monday.”

Another veteran, Jrue Holiday, didn’t blink when asked where he thinks this series now stands after Dallas’ win. 

“I think the series is we are up 3-1 going back to Boston,” the guard declared. 

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