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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mavericks Rout Celtics, Avoid Being Swept

The Boston Celtics' coronation will have to wait at least one more game; after taking a 3-0 NBA Finals lead, the Celtics suffered a record-setting 122-84 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The defeat snapped Boston's franchise record 10 game playoff winning streak and prevented the Celtics from becoming the first team to ever notch a sweep in the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals in the same postseason. Luka Doncic scored a game-high 29 points in just 33 minutes on 12-26 field goal shooting while also grabbing five rebounds, passing for five assists, and committing just one turnover. Dallas Coach Jason Kidd provided a not so subtle rebuttal to Doncic’s critics by correctly noting that Doncic played the same excellent way that he usually does. Kyrie Irving had his second good game in a row at home after being a nonfactor in games one and two on the road; he finished with 21 points, six assists, and four rebounds. The Mavericks emptied their bench for the entire fourth quarter, so their other individual numbers are skewed by what Marv Albert would call "extensive garbage time."

The Celtics shot 29-80 (.362) from the field. Jayson Tatum was their leading scorer with just 15 points on 4-10 field goal shooting. Jaylen Brown (10 points on 3-12 field goal shooting) and Jrue Holiday (10 points on 4-10 field goal shooting) were their only other starters who scored in double figures. The Celtics jacked up 41 three pointers and were outscored in the paint 60-26. They missed the imposing presence of the injured Kristaps Porzingis at both ends of the court, but the larger issue is that they played like a team enjoying a three game cushion while the Mavericks played like a team facing not only elimination but humiliation.

Despite frequent talk about "clutch statistics," the reality is that the NBA is often a first quarter league--and this game is an excellent example of that, with Dallas never looking back after jumping out to a 34-21 lead in the first 12 minutes. The Mavericks led 61-35 at halftime as Doncic poured in 25 points to break Dirk Nowitzki's franchise record for points in one half of an NBA Finals game. The Mavericks had the second largest lead at the end of the third quarter in NBA Finals history (92-60), and they ended up enjoying the third largest win in NBA Finals history.

After game three, ESPN's Brian Windhorst led the charge of the bloviators bleating about how terrible Doncic is and how Doncic must dramatically alter his game to ever have a chance of leading the Mavericks to an NBA title. Doncic had 27 points on 11-27 field goal shooting in 38 minutes in game three, with six rebounds, six assists, and three turnovers--numbers that are virtually identical to his game four statistics--but much will be made of how Doncic "responded to the critics" in game four when the reality is that he has been Dallas' best player throughout this season, this postseason, and this series; the difference in game four is that he received a lot more help from his teammates at both ends of the court.

In the wake of game four, the predictable narrative is that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are failures because they did not lead the Celtics to a sweep, ignoring the fact that NBA Finals sweeps are rare: there have been just nine of them—little more than one per decade in the league’s history, and just three since 1996—with Bill Russell notching just one in his record-setting 11 championship runs, and Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan never achieving an NBA Finals sweep. Jordan's 1996 Chicago Bulls--arguably the greatest NBA team of all-time with Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman alongside Jordan--took a 3-0 NBA Finals lead only to suffer back to back losses before winning game six. The 1982 L.A. Lakers led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson won their first nine playoff games and enjoyed a 3-1 NBA Finals lead versus Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers before losing game five, 135-102. Abdul-Jabbar scored just six points in that loss, and Magic Johnson had 10 points on 4-9 field goal shooting with a game-high five turnovers. The Lakers won game six 114-104 to clinch their second title in three years en route to winning five championships in the 1980s.

It is funny to listen to the talking heads/screaming heads and observe how little they know about basketball history and how little they understand about the natural ebbs and flows of competition. Every possession and every game is not a referendum on a player's legacy, and to suggest otherwise is to demonstrate that one is more interested in providing clickbait than in providing intelligent analysis. The first letter in ESPN stands for "entertainment," not intelligence, and the network decided a long time ago to prioritize sound and fury over logic and reason, with Hubie Brown and Tim Legler being rare, welcome exceptions--but Brown has a reduced role now, and Legler is mostly relegated to cameo SportsCenter appearances.

Despite all of the ranting and raving to the contrary, momentum does not exist in an NBA playoff series; the Danny Ainge quip from decades ago is still apt: This is not the Tour de France. In other words, a team that wins by 38 points does not start the next game with a 38 point lead, unlike riders who win a Tour de France stage. Game five will likely have a different flow and tone, and the Celtics will likely finish off the Mavericks to clinch their record 18th NBA title.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:32 AM



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