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Offseason | NBA Week 26

Celtics vow to maintain fight even with commanding Finals lead

Thu Jun 13 4:35pm ET
Field Level Media

Although the Celtics hold a commanding 3-0 lead over the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, Boston coach Joe Mazzulla realizes the fight is far from over.

Mazzulla has been showing the Celtics UFC highlights during the team's film sessions in an attempt to show them that there's a very fine line between victory and defeat, regardless of the circumstances.

"If you've ever been in a fight with someone and you think you're about to beat ‘em, you usually get sucker punched," Mazzulla told reporters before Boston beat Dallas 106-99 in Game 3 on Wednesday night. "The closer you are to beating them up, the closer you are to losing."

With the Mavericks entering Wednesday down 2-0 in the series, Mazzulla and the Celtics were bracing for Dallas' best shot, and they got it in the fourth quarter.


Boston was up 91-70 following a 3-pointer from Derrick White with 11:07 left in the game, but the Mavericks then ran wild. Dallas scored 22 of the next 24 points, pulling within 93-92 when Kyrie Irving knocked down a jumper with 3:37 to go.

But the Celtics never gave away the lead, and now they are one win away from the 18th title in franchise history.

Teams that have won the first three games of a best-of-seven playoff series are 156-0, but that figure doesn't necessarily instill a sense of security for Boston. In last year's Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics found themselves in the exact same position that the Mavericks are currently in, and Boston came all the way back to force a Game 7 against the Miami Heat.

However, Celtics star Jayson Tatum sustained an ankle injury just 26 seconds into that contest, hampering him for the rest of the game. He finished with just 14 points, and Miami blew Boston away 103-84.

"We really felt like we were going to come back," Tatum said of the series with Miami. "We almost did. ... We were a sprained ankle away from having like a real shot. So, you know, we are not relaxing or anything like that. You know, not even focusing on winning or (Game 4) or whatever.

"However long it takes, that's our motto. However long it takes, that's what it's going to take."

And the Mavericks don't plan on just throwing in the towel.

"It's not over till it's over. We just got to believe," Dallas star Luka Doncic said. "Like I always say, it's first to four. We're going to stay together. We lose together, we win together. So we got to stay together."

Doncic will try to redeem himself in Game 4 on Friday after a nightmarish fourth quarter on Wednesday.

The Mavericks were only trailing by three when Doncic tried to step in front of Jaylen Brown to draw a charge, but he was called for a blocking foul, his sixth personal, with 4:12 remaining. Dallas challenged the call, which stood, leaving the Mavericks without their best player down the stretch.

Four of Doncic's fouls came in the fourth quarter, when he had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting.

In Dallas coach Jason Kidd's eyes, struggling in the Finals -- and learning from it -- is just one step on the path to greatness.

"I think the history is there for us to learn from, when you look at great players and the struggles," Kidd said Thursday. "You look at (Michael Jordan) and the struggles that he had against Detroit. You look at some Magic Johnson struggles. You look at LeBron's first time around. ... But as the great ones, they use that going into the next season or the next couple seasons to try to get back there because now they understand experience is a big thing.

"When you look at the Celtics, they lose to the Warriors two years ago. They lose to Miami in Game 7 (last season). So just experience of understanding that you're not promised to get back, that you've got to work."

--Nick Galle, Field Level Media

Player Notes
Kristaps Porzingis Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (leg) is out for Wednesday's matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. The veteran suffered a "rare" left posterior Tibialis dislocation. While he had every intention of suiting up, the medical staff didn't feel it was in his best interest. There's a growing concern that Porzingis won't return for the remainder of the NBA Finals. But while he's sidelined, Al Horford is worth rostering in DFS contests.

Luka Doncic Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (chest) will suit up for Game 3 of the NBA Finals versus Boston. The 25-year-old has gotten banged up throughout the postseason. He began the playoffs by battling knee and ankle soreness. However, his latest ailment, a thoracic contusion, is severe enough to warrant a pain-killing injection. With that said, Doncic averaged 31.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 3.0 steals in the first two contests against the Celtics. But the injury is something for DFS managers to keep in mind, considering it could negatively impact his play on Wednesday night.

Markelle Fultz Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Impending free-agent guard Markelle Fultz hopes to remain with the Magic. "I built a lot of great relationships here," said Fultz during a recent interview. "I understand some guys are going to be gone." The 2017 No. 1 overall pick averaged a career-high 14.0 points in 60 games during the 2022-23 campaign. However, he made only 43 appearances last season due to injury while averaging 7.8 points, his fewest since his rookie year. Without question, Fultz will draw attention from a handful of teams during the offseason. But his inability to stay healthy over the years hasn't sat well with fantasy managers. Fultz's career 27.4% shooting from behind the arc is another issue, which isn't expected to improve anytime soon.

Kristaps Porzingis Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, there is "real doubt" about the availability of Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (leg) for the remainder of the NBA Finals against the Mavericks. The veteran suffered a posterior Tibialis dislocation in Game 2 on Sunday night. While he tried to test things out ahead of Game 3, the C's medical staff made the call to keep him off the floor. Porzingis recently returned for Game 1 after missing over a month because of a Soleus strain. Although he came off the bench in the first two games of the NBA Finals, he still averaged 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. Nonetheless, the 28-year-old may need surgery. But while Porzingis is on the shelf, Al Horford will likely continue to start.

Darius Garland Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, citing league executives, teams around the NBA are "backing off" from trying to acquire Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland. Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman recently indicated the team isn't looking to trade the 24-year-old. Yet, it may not be possible, especially Cleveland hopes to sign Donovan Mitchell to an extension. Garland averaged 18.0 points and shot 37.1% from behind the arc last season, both down from the 2022-23 campaign. He was also limited to 57 games because of injury. However, Garland figures to be a viable fantasy asset in 2024-25, regardless of where he ends up.

Jayson Tatum Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum saw his shooting woes continue in Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals against Dallas, but he posted a team-high 31 points in a 106-99 victory. The Celtics star has shot 35.9 percent in the Finals, and he finished Wednesday's contest with an 11-for-26 effort, hitting 4-for-13 from deep. However, Tatum played a complete game, adding playmaking and rebounding to his scoring. He recorded six boards and five dimes with one steal. Tatum has been limited to 21.7 points per game in the Finals, but he's also had 8.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists to help the team grab a 3-0 series lead.

Jaylen Brown Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Boston Celtics guard/forward Jaylen Brown had one of the best postseason performances of his career in Wednesday's Game 3 against the Mavericks, amassing 30 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and a block in a 106-99 win. While Jayson Tatum continues to struggle with his shooting in the Finals, Brown had his third straight effort with 50-plus percent shooting from the field, hitting 12-for-22, although he only managed to go 2-for-9 with the three-ball. The J's became the first Celtics duo to each record at least 30 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a Finals game. And after jumping to a 3-0 lead, it now appears to be only a matter of time before Boston closes out the series.

Derrick White Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Boston Celtics guard Derrick White had another busy night in the office against Dallas in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, notching 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two blocks to help the team to a 106-99 victory. He finished with 4-for-10 shooting, recording his only makes from behind the arc with nine attempts. White has been immense at both ends of the floor for Boston in the Finals and should continue to play a large role in the team's success. The 29-year-old has averaged 16.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals in three games against the Mavericks.

Kyrie Irving Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 35 points on 13-for-28 shooting in Wednesday's Game 3 loss to Boston. After amassing only 28 points across the first two games of the Finals, Irving had by far his best performance of the series, but the Mavericks still couldn't get a win on the board. Irving's efforts included a 4-for-6 record with the three-ball, three rebounds, and two assists. Dallas is now in huge trouble, as no team in NBA history has managed to win a playoff series from a 3-0 deficit. The team will be facing elimination in Game 4 on Friday, and we can expect to see Irving put in a big effort to help the team extend the series.

Luka Doncic Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic hit an unwanted milestone in Wednesday's Game 3 loss to the Celtics, fouling out for the first time in his postseason career. Playing in his 51st playoff contest, Doncic picked up two quick fouls in crunch time and was forced to sit out the final 4:12 of action. He finished with 27 points, six rebounds, six assists, and one steal. Following a very strong shooting performance in Game 2, the Slovenian superstar was limited to 11-for-27 shooting and hit only one of his seven attempts from behind the arc. A more efficient performance will be needed from him for Dallas to survive Friday's Game 4.

Tim Hardaway Jr. Thu Jun 13 2:40pm

Dallas Mavericks guard/forward Tim Hardaway Jr. was back in the rotation in Wednesday's Game 3 loss against the Celtics but had a miserable outing. After not earning a single second of action in Game 2, Hardaway Jr. saw 19 minutes but finished scoreless with 0-for-5 shooting and ended up with a game-worst minus-16 rating. Hardaway Jr. was among the league's most prolific bench performers during the regular season, but he's had a rough ride throughout the playoffs. The 32-year-old sniper, who is Dallas' third-highest-paid player, has seen his scoring average drop from 14.4 points to 3.8 points due to 27.6 percent shooting from downtown. He has hit 34 percent overall from the field in the playoffs, and it wouldn't be surprising if Wednesday's game ends up being Hardaway Jr.'s last appearance in the 2024 Finals.

Kristaps Porzingis Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

The Boston Celtics announced that forward/center Kristaps Porzingis (leg) is listed as day-to-day for the rest of the NBA Finals after suffering a rare injury in the third quarter of Game 2 on Sunday versus Dallas. According to Marc D'Amico of the Celtics' official site, the injury is a torn medial retinaculum that allowed dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg. The current setback for Porzingis is unrelated to his previous right-calf injury. He has suited up for just six games this postseason and has averaged 24.5 minutes, 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 blocks per contest.

Kristaps Porzingis Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (leg) is questionable for Game 3 of the NBA Finals versus Dallas. The team declared him "day-to-day." However, many believe he won't return for the remainder of the postseason because of the left posterior Tibialis discloation he sustained during Game 2 on Sunday night. Of course, Porzingis will likely do all he can to be out there on Wednesday. But if he can't suit up, Al Horford, who will likely continue to start regardless of Porzingis' availability, should see even more minutes, automatically increasing his DFS value.

Luka Doncic Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (back) is probable for Game 3 of the NBA Finals versus Boston. In addition to the thoracic contusion, Doncic has appeared on the injury report thoughout the postseason because of knee and ankle soreness. However, no matter what is ailing him, it's unlikely he'll miss time for the rest of the playoffs, assuming he doesn't suffer a more severe injury. The 25-year-old has played well during the series against the Celtics, averaging 31.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 3.0 steals, making him worthy of being included in any DFS lineup on Wednesday night.

Dennis Schroder Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Brooklyn Nets guard Dennis Schroder hopes to remain with the team in 2024-25 and beyond. "Brooklyn is a really cool, great organization, quite family-oriented," Said Schroder during an interview. "I'd definitely like to stick around for the long haul." Understandably, the 30-year-old, who has one year left on his current deal, would want to stay in Brooklyn, considering he averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 rebounds in 29 games with the Nets during the 2023-24 campaign. He also shot a career-high 41.2% from behind the arc. With that said, Schroder's best days are likely behind him. But he could continue to hold a stable role with the Nets, which isn't bad for his fantasy potential.

Jimmy Butler Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler is reportedly eager to stay with the team. "My sense is Jimmy Butler does not want to be anywhere but Miami," said NBA insider Shams Charania on the Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday. "Sense is that he loves it in Miami. But again, he is extension-eligible this year. There are multiple teams out there that would give him an extension." There have been reports of Butler's former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, being ready to offer him a maximum extension to lure him back to the City of Brotherly Love. A move elsewhere could have a negative impact on Butler's fantasy value because he might be forced to play a lesser role next to another superstar or two.

Darius Garland Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the trade market for Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Darius Garland has cooled off. "There are now teams that are sort of backing off, saying well, maybe Garland is not gonna be available," Windhorst said during an appearance on ESPN Cleveland's The Really Big Show. The statement comes after Cavaliers president Koby Altman recently suggested that the team isn't desperate to break up the duo of Garland and Donovan Mitchell. It has been reported that Garland will seek a trade if the Cavaliers sign Mitchell to an extension this offseason.

Kyle Lowry Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Philadelphia 76ers point guard Kyle Lowry was tracked by the New York Knicks before his move to the City of Brotherly Love. Lowry was traded by the Miami Heat to the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 23, and his contract was bought out two weeks later without the veteran making a single appearance for the team. League sources have told The Athletic's Fred Katz that Lowry was on the Knicks' "list" following the buyout before he signed a deal until the end of the season with his hometown team. The 38-year-old might be on the move again this offseason as a free agent and could be back on New York's radar after some strong performances against the Knicks in this year's playoffs.

Luka Doncic Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic is playing through multiple ailments in the 2024 NBA Playoffs and reportedly received a pain-killing injection to get through Game 2 of the Finals against Boston. The injection was made so he could cope with his latest injury, a thoracic contusion. Doncic has also battled through ankle and knee issues in the postseason. Sources have told ESPN's Tim MacMahon that Doncic will receive another pain-killing injection before Wednesday's Game 3. The Mavericks star will enter the contest on the back of three consecutive 30-point performances.

LeBron James Wed Jun 12 2:30pm

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has reportedly not been involved in the team's search for a new head coach. It has been suggested that he has a major influence on the franchise's decisions. However, according to NBA insider Shams Charania, James is "staying clear" of the coaching search. The Lakers appeared to have found their man last week, but UConn's head coach, Dan Hurley, rejected the job. A recent report for Charania noted that the team is "zeroing" in on James' podcast partner and player-turned-analyst JJ Redick, while James Borrego, the current associate head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, also remains an option.