The 4 Celtics questions that will decide Game 4 – Boston Herald

The Celtics and Mavericks will tip off in Game 4 of the NBA Finals tonight in Dallas.

Here are the four big questions that will decide whether Boston completes a sweep or comes back home for a Game 5:

1. How much fight does Dallas have left?

No team in NBA history has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs, and the Mavericks hardly looked poised to become the exception.

That said, the Mavs cut a 21-point Celtics lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 down to one possession on two occasions. The latter came on a Kyrie Irving bucket after Luka Doncic fouled out with 4:12 remaining. Dallas cannot extend this series without an A-game from Doncic, who has been a turnstile on defense but continues to power the Mavs’ offense to a degree that they have backed Boston into crunch time each of the last two games.

So will Doncic fold in Game 4? Or will he rise above the criticism that has buried him since Wednesday night and stand up to the Celtics’ bully-ball offensive approach?

“(Doncic)’s definitely got a bull’s-eye on his chest,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said of Boston hunting his star on defense. “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. Again, he’s carrying a load offensively. They are putting him in every pick-and-roll and iso.

“He’s got to be able to play the game where he can rest on offense and let others carry the load.”

2. Can the Celtics continue to generate more 3s?

The greatest disparity in these Finals hasn’t come on the scoreboard, but in the box score.

Over this series, Boston has hoisted 49 more 3-pointers than Dallas and hit nearly twice as many. The power of the 3 was most evident in Game 3, when both teams made 38 field goals, and the Mavs sank one extra free throw, but the Celtics won anyway.

Why? Of their 38 field goals, the Celtics hit eight more triples than the Mavs did.

Part of their success is roster construction, a loaded team designed to flood the floor with shooters and stretch defenses into impossible angles and decisions. Even when Kristaps Porzingis is out, as he was in Game 3, Boston rolls out Al Horford again, and he goes 2-of-5 from downtown. Off the bench, sharpshooter Sam Hauser went 3-of-4 one game after backup point guard Payton Pritchard banked in a long 3 to change the course of a tight Game 2.

The other piece of Boston overwhelming Dallas from deep is the structure of their defense. The Celtics limited corner 3 attempts better than any defense in the league this season, and that success has carried over into the Finals. They’ve stripped the Mavericks of a critical offensive source, staying at home on shooters even after Doncic drives deep into the paint.

Dallas is 3-of-12 on corner 3-pointers this series, when corner 3s have made up just 4.9% of its shot diet after a regular season when that percentage was a league-high 12%. The Celtics have bent the Mavericks on both ends of the floor, and they’re breaking.

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3. What will the Jays do for an encore?

Two nights ago, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown became the first Celtics teammates in history to record at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in a Finals game.

Tatum carried Boston in the first half of a Game 3 win, finally breaking from a series-long shooting slump. Then Brown put the team on his back, dropping the hammer with a thunderous dunk to close the third quarter and field goals that stopped two threatening Mavericks runs in the fourth. It marked one of the best games Tatum and Brown have played together, as demonstrated by those moments, Brown’s playoff-high eight assists and countless other plays.

“We were able to make plays and find a way to win,” he said of the Game 3 win. “And we’ve been in those positions, and we’ve lost. It was great to overcome that with my brother, Jayson, and with our team. That was special.”

If Tatum and Brown can replicate that level of play and synergy, it’s hard to imagine a Dallas win tonight, almost regardless of how Doncic and Irving perform.

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