Celtics best Mavs in Game 3 with Jaylen Brown’s biggest game yet


The Celtics nearly frittered away a 21-point fourth-quarter lead on Wednesday.

Celtics best Mavs in Game 3 with Jaylen Brown’s biggest game yet
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) slam dunks past Dallas Mavericks forward P.J. Washington (25) during the third quarter in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Danielle Parhizkaran//The Boston Globe

The Celtics nearly frittered away a 21-point fourth-quarter lead on Wednesday, but held on. Nobody in Boston will mind given the final result: A 106-99 victory and a 3-0 series lead over the Mavericks in the Finals. 

Here are the takeaways.

1. Jaylen Brown was terrific, and he established himself as a clear frontrunner for NBA Finals MVP. He flirted with a triple-double, scoring 30 points to go with eight rebounds and assists, and he was the Celtics’ best player during a third-quarter flurry that pushed their advantage to 15 with Jayson Tatum on the bench. 

Brown’s loudest highlight was this one-handed slam in the third quarter that punctuated the Celtics’ big push.

But maybe his biggest shot came with a minute left: After Dereck Lively threw down a two-handed slam and cut the Celtics’ lead back down to two, Brown buried a clutch jumper over Tim Hardaway Jr. that kept the Mavericks at bay. 

Brown has reached legacy-writing heights in the postseason this year. Wednesday’s game could be a defining chapter.

“I mean, how can I explain Jaylen? The guy just has a growth mindset,” Joe Mazzulla said. “He just wants to get better. He yearns to get better. He’s not afraid to face his weaknesses on the court. When you have that type of mindset, you’re just going to be able to take on every situation that the game brings you. He puts himself in every single situation that he sees in a game. He uses six, seven, eight coaches a day, and every situation on both ends of the floor, he puts himself in that.

“And that’s how you have to grow, is to become vulnerable and on the things that make you uncomfortable, and he does that.”

2. Two enormous quarters deserve mention in the same breath. 

The first was the Celtics’ third-quarter 35-19 run. Brown hit 3-pointers. Derrick White hit 3-pointers. Luka Doncic got cooked yet again. The Mavericks looked defeated and broken, and the Celtics looked ready to storm their way to the title. 

The Mavericks, to their credit, responded in the fourth as the Celtics started playing prevent offense, which remains their worst brand of basketball. They walked the ball up and killed clock until Payton Pritchard needed to take multiple contested jumpers to beat the buzzer, which he missed. Joe Mazzulla appeared to call a timeout one or two possessions too late. By the time the dust cleared, the Mavericks went on a 20-2 run and cut the lead as low as two. 

The Celtics, however, woke up and got just enough from their offense down the stretch to claim the win. 

“Those are the moments which you have to just live for,” Brown said. “We’ve been in those moments a lot. We just needed to be patient, be poised. I feel like we got some good looks. The defensive intensity ramped up. Officiating, you know, got a little bit tighter. So at the end of the day, you’ve just got to make plays. I thought we got some good looks down the line in the fourth. Some went in. Some didn’t.”

3. With 8:16 left in the third quarter, Luka Doncic committed his second foul out of frustration, then – in a rare moment of candor to the officials – held up a finger to acknowledge his mistake. The moment didn’t feel particularly important at the time. 

Fast forward to the fourth quarter: Doncic, now sitting on four personal fouls, committed two within the span of 22 seconds. After a lengthy review, Doncic’s sixth foul was confirmed, and he was forced to sit the final four minutes of the game. 

Kyrie Irving did his best, but his 3-pointer in the final minute hit the front of the rim and bounced off. The Mavericks’ defense certainly didn’t suffer with Doncic out of the game (he once again was a passive observer for a number of Celtics’ baskets), but they needed his scoring to have a chance to salvage a Game 3 win. 

“We couldn’t play physical,” Doncic said afterward. “I don’t know. I don’t want to say nothing. You know, six fouls in the NBA Finals, basically I’m like this [shrugging]. C’mon, man. Better than that.”

4. For the third game in a row, Doncic was devastatingly bad defensively for the Mavericks – a simple target any time he was on the floor. It got so bad that even his team started pointing it out postgame.

“It’s not the first time a team has tried to target Luka on the defensive end,” Kyrie Irving said. “So for us, we’re just trying to put a great shell defense around not only him, but the rest of the team.”

Jason Kidd was even more direct.

“He’s definitely got a bull’s-eye on his chest,” Kidd said. “He’s got to be able to guard and understand that we’re there to protect him and help him if he does get beat.”

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst unloaded on Doncic, calling his defensive performance “unacceptable” and calling him a “hole” on the court. Windhorst certainly wasn’t lying on either count – the Celtics have been the better team overall, but Doncic gives them a simple jumping off point for every offensive possession.

“Luka is a great player. I’m going to start by saying that,” Brown said. “He does a lot for their team. Offensively has the ball in his hands a lot. It’s a tough lift for him. He’s been tough. Even with that fourth quarter, those stats, he’s still been able to pretty much get to whatever he wants.

“So we’ve just got to continue to be better, and that’s all I could really say.”

Doncic is unquestionably a special offensive talent, but the Celtics are lucky enough to have two stars who also defend at a high level. In the playoffs, when every player’s flaws are under a powerful microscope, that matters a lot.

5. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined, Xavier Tillman picked up some slack and held his own impressively. After struggling initially when switched onto Doncic, he stayed on his feet and used his strength to bully Doncic right back, limiting the Mavs star when they forced a switch. That was all the Celtics needed from Tillman and he delivered. 

His third-quarter 3-pointer was just icing.

“I thought he was great,” Brown said. “Defensively, I thought he was stellar, and that big shot he made in the corner, I just knew it. I just knew when I drove, they were going to help, and he was going open. And I trusted it all the way. I just knew it was going in. I don’t know how to tell you. It was just like a divine experience. I knew X was going to make that shot, and he did. That was big for us.”

6. Sam Hauser went 3-for-4 from 3-point range, which was 1) great for the Celtics, because good stretches by Hauser can be game-breaking and 2) a good sign that their offense was clicking, because Hauser gets really good looks when the offense works well.

7. Since we are listing big shots, this triple by Derrick White was huge.

White finished with 16 points on 4-for-9 shooting from deep.

8. Joel Embiid has a question.

To answer Embiid’s question: To some extent, absolutely!

9. Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 31, shooting 11-for-26 from the field and 4-for-13 from behind the arc.

After the win, Tatum and Brown embraced at halfcourt. Tatum pounded Brown on the chest and whispered something to him, and Brown broke into a huge smile. 

“We were able to make plays and find a way to win, and we’ve been in those positions, and we’ve lost,” Brown said. “It was great to overcome that with my brother, Jayson, and with our team. That was special.”

“Just showing the emotions of the game,” Tatum added. “Two guys that was excited, tired. […] Just at that moment, told him I was proud of him and he said the same thing: That we’ve got to keep fighting. We can’t relax. And that was basically the conversation.”

10. Game 4 tips off Friday at 8:30 p.m. The Celtics are on the verge of history.

“Can’t get too high,” Jrue Holiday said. “There is still one more left. We’ve seen crazier things happen. Just get the win. Whatever it takes, however long it takes.”

Tatum echoed those sentiments.

“We’re not necessarily saying like one more or anything like that,” he said. “We are just saying, ‘However long it takes.’ Nobody is relaxed. Nobody is satisfied.”

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