Mavericks hand Celtics Game 4 loss to extend Finals


The Celtics shot 36.3 percent in Game 4, nearly their worst shooting performance all season.

Mavericks hand Celtics Game 4 loss to extend Finals
The Celtics’ starters were removed midway through the third quarter on Friday. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Celtics may have gotten a little too comfortable. 

After taking a 3-0 series lead on Wednesday, the Celtics were blown out by the Mavericks in Game 4, falling 122-84.

Here are the takeaways as the series shifts back to Boston. 

1. The Celtics certainly would not be the first team in NBA history to let go of the rope in a potential closeout Game 4 and instead close out the series at home. Sweeping a team is difficult to do, especially in the Finals – both because a team in the Finals generally has a lot of pride, and because it’s hard to summon the requisite desperation up 3-0 to beat a really good team. The Celtics were not the more desperate team, which was almost immediately evident.

The Celtics also weren’t likely to lose a close Game 4. If the Mavericks didn’t summon enough energy to build a big lead, they probably weren’t going to summon enough energy to win given the circumstances. 

The Mavericks, however, utterly dominated the Celtics on Friday. They won by so much, the point differential in the series actually flipped despite their 3-1 deficit. The Celtics’ starters were removed midway through the third quarter, and even that felt like Joe Mazzulla left them in a timeout too long. Friday’s loss snapped a 10-game playoff winning streak by the Celtics (kind of an absurd stat itself), and the Mavericks did it in a beatdown.

“I thought we got a lot of good shots,” Holiday said. “I think a lot of them didn’t fall. A lot of the plays we made before didn’t go in the hoop. You saw a couple go in and out. Again, just a couple plays didn’t go our way.”

The Celtics should be fine. They have been the best team in the series (and in the postseason) by a significant margin. They generally bounce back from big losses in a big way. They had a poor shooting night which should revert to some degree. There were a lot of schematic reasons they got their teeth punched on Friday which should be fixable.

Still, they cracked the window just a bit for a Mavericks team who seemed thoroughly down and out. If the Mavericks squeak out a win in Boston on Monday, the series shifts back to Dallas, and you can bet Jason Kidd will tell his team that no fewer than a thousand times in the 72 hours between now and then. 

Joe Mazzulla likes to say that the closer you are to winning, the closer you are to losing, and quite frankly, his unconventional truisms really aren’t as odd or opaque as people like to pretend.

2. The Celtics clearly decided as a team that the media didn’t need to hear them tear their clothes over a Game 4 loss when they are still up 3-1, opting instead to praise the Mavericks.

“Give credit to Dallas. I think they played hard physically, and then they dominated the glass,” Jaylen Brown said.

“Credit to Dallas,” Jrue Holiday said. “They played extremely hard. They played desperate, and we’ve got to do the same.”

“I think it was more about Dallas,” Al Horford said. “I felt like they were the better team tonight, clearly. They played much better, and you’ve got to give them credit.”

Mazzulla, meanwhile, was so determined to give Dallas credit that he did so no fewer than seven times. When a reporter tried to shift the conversation onto the Celtics, Mazzulla – as he often does – dodged expertly.

“You’ve been asked a couple times about your team’s effort, and you keep going back to how well Dallas played. So how was your team’s effort?” the reporter asked.

“It wasn’t as good as Dallas’ was,” Mazzulla said, without missing a beat. “I thought theirs was a lot better.”

3. A lot of things went wrong for the Celtics in the first quarter (and, obviously, in every quarter thereafter as well). 

The Mavericks started making shots immediately, which was to be expected – Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have started well in every game so far, and Friday was no exception. 

The Celtics also started cold from the field. They were 2-for-9 from the 3-point line in the first quarter, and one of those triples was an end-of-the-shot-clock prayer by Derrick White. 

Jayson Tatum got frustrated with the officials early, and while the Celtics might not have gotten every foul call that could have been whistled, it was so far from the reason for their struggles that it barely warrants mention (other than to note that Tatum appeared very worked up). 

Xavier Tillman did his best, but the Celtics’ spacing suffered quite a bit as a result of his presence, which warrants a closer look before Game 5. The Mavericks can’t defend the Celtics when they are spaced out, but Tillman gives them an opportunity to cheat toward drivers and clog the paint. 

And finally, the Celtics struggled on the defensive glass – the Mavericks grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first quarter.

All together now: Credit to Dallas. 

4. Doncic responded to the tsunami of (well-earned) criticism levied against him after Game 3 in a huge way – he finished with 25 points in the first half, which essentially decided the game (he ended the contest with 29 in 32 minutes to go with five rebounds and five assists). The Celtics struggled to contain him in all the usual ways, and he didn’t even have to make a 3-pointer (0-for-8) to beat them.

5. The Celtics weren’t nearly as disciplined attacking Doncic in the first quarter as they have been in previous games. When they did, they still blew by with relative ease early (with the exception of a late shot-clock drive by Tatum and what looked like an unforced fumble by Jrue Holiday), and they created several good looks when they did attack him. 

The Celtics need to be much better about intentionally making Doncic work and getting the Mavericks back into rotation in Game 5. 

6. The Celtics narrowly avoided their worst shooting night of the season: They shot a miserly 36.0 percent against the Clippers in January. On Friday, thanks to a not-quite-so-disastrous fourth quarter in garbage time, they shot 36.3 percent. 

7. Tatum said he believed the issues started at the defensive end.

“We didn’t get many stops,” he said. “So they were allowed to set their defense up, and just naturally, when you’re scoring at a high rate, you feel good about yourself. Your energy is higher. Tend to probably play better defense.

“So it all starts on the defensive end. We’ve just got to do a much better job containing them, making it tougher, and getting stops.”

That might be true, but Mazzulla has inverted that a bit this year, often noting that good offense allows a team to set up its defense. The Celtics’ offensive gameplan also acts as defense against Doncic, wearing him down early. 

The truth, of course, is that after a 38-point loss, both the offense and the defense need to be miles better.

Tatum said the Celtics will try “not to harp on it too much.”

“We always say you lose by two or you lose by 30, they all count the same,” he added. “But we do need to be better. We’re not making any excuses. We need to be better, and we will. We will be better.”

8. Dereck Lively made the first 3-pointer of his NBA career during the Mavs’ initial flurry, which summed up the Celtics’ evening well.

9. Jrue Holiday is the only Celtic who has closed out a Finals game, and he isn’t sure what goes into it. 

“I don’t know,” he said. “Even though I’ve done it. You’ve got to do it together as a team. Everybody has to be clicking and being, again, the more desperate team.

“We’ve just got to go back home. I think locking into tendencies, locking into the game plan, and I think we’ll be okay.”

10. On Monday, the Celtics can try to close out the Mavericks at home. If they do, Friday’s loss will immediately fade into a meaningless footnote – a tip of the cap to a great player who had enough pride to force the gentleman’s sweep rather than lose a truly embarrassing series on his home floor.

If they don’t, some jaws around Boston will start to clench.

“I think it’s going to be as loud as it’s ever been, in my seven years of being a Celtic,” Tatum said. “Excited to go back home. Celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday and compete for a championship on Monday. So it should be a lot of fun.”

Game 5 tips off at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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