When Luka Doncic fouled out in Game 3, the Mavericks’ chances left with him


After cutting a 21-point deficit all the way down to 3, the Mavericks had to play the final minutes of the game without their best offensive player.

When Luka Doncic fouled out in Game 3, the Mavericks’ chances left with him
Luka Doncic was called for a blocking foul against Jaylen Brown in the fourth quarter Wednesday. (Danielle Parhizkaran/Globe Staff)

DALLAS — Mavericks guard Luka Doncic’s attempt to draw a charge on Jaylen Brown late in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday may have been the decision that sealed the Celtics’ stranglehold on this series.

After cutting a 21-point deficit all the way down to 3, the Mavericks had to play the final 4:12 of the game without their best offensive player because he fouled out on the play.

The Celtics found a way to hang on for a 106-99 win, and now lead the NBA Finals, 3-0. No team has come back from such a deficit in NBA playoff history.

Putting himself in that situation with five fouls and so much time left was an awkward decision by Doncic. He left his fate up to the officials on a block/charge call.

He threw his hands in the air and yelled toward his bench to challenge the call. The refs whistled him for a block and Dallas lost the challenge, leaving Doncic to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines.

“I don’t know,” Doncic said. “We couldn’t play physical. I don’t know. I don’t want to say nothing. You know, six fouls in the NBA Finals, basically I’m like this [motions with palms out]. Come on, man. Better than that.”

Dallas wasn’t quite finished in the immediate aftermath of the call, but it certainly didn’t help matters.

A rejuvenated Kyrie Irving (35 points, 4 for 6 from 3-point range) brought the Mavericks within 1 with an 18-foot pull-up jumper over Jrue Holiday.

But that was as close as Dallas would get. Irving scored just 2 more points, both on free throws, over the final 2:32 without Doncic alongside him.

Irving said he felt like it was on him to take over the game after Doncic fouled out.

“I don’t think I really had a choice,” he said. “It was unfortunate that the foul was called. Luka picked up his fifth and sixth in a matter of a three-minute or two-minute span. It’s tough.

“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.”

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said he felt like he had to challenge the call, but he was asked why he did not challenge the call on Doncic’s fifth foul, when Doncic got whistled for contact with Brown just outside the paint. Kidd responded by asking why Dallas wouldn’t challenge all the foul calls.

At some point, Doncic just needs to do a better job defensively, Kidd said. The Celtics are targeting his weakness on that end of the floor.

“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.

“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.”

With their backs against the wall, the Mavericks must come out with guns blazing in Game 4, Irving said.

“Man, I just really think about going home,” Irving said. “This is a metaphor here. Just be ready. Just go home, get the ammo ready, get the bazooka, the 50 cal ready. Get everything ready, because when we come into Game 4, we know we got to shoot our shots and we got to do it with an aggression.

“Defensively, we got to … do the things that creates that separation for us when we’re playing against them. They shoot a lot of tough threes. They really rely on their 3-point shot to create that separation for themselves, obviously to create that comfortability.”

All of the 156 teams that have faced a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs have failed to overcome it.

Blaming Doncic for the end of Game 3 isn’t the answer if the Mavericks want to have a shot at making the biggest comeback in NBA history, Irving said.

“You just got to let it breathe a little bit,” Irving said. “Let the human emotions come out. Just give him a hug. That’s it, man. It’s easy to point the finger at just him, say you could be better. That’s easy to say. I think he knows that.”

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