How Celtics took command of NBA Finals with Game 2 win over hurting Mavericks

BOSTON – Luka Dončić is hurting. Kyrie Irving is struggling, and Jason Kidd’s mind game on the Celtics didn’t work. All are ingredients for the 2-0 hole Dallas is in at the NBA Finals.

Boston took firm command of this series Sunday night with a 105-98 win in Game 2, behind 26 points from Jrue Holiday, a near triple double from Jayson Tatum and another balanced effort from Jaylen Brown.

Dončić, playing with a bruised chest in addition to nagging knee and ankle injuries, was personally dominant again in the loss, this time with a 32-point triple double. But he scored just 9 points after halftime, and if any of the injuries are affecting him, well, Dallas can ill afford it if the Mavs aren’t going to get more help from another player.

“I think my turnovers and my missed free throws cost us the game,” said Dončić, who said he was “OK” physically. He suffered the injury taking a charge in Game 1, but said he didn’t feel any pain until the following day.

“I actually was [questionable],” Dončić said. “But I always want to play. All day we did a lot of things to get ready.”

Irving is shooting 13-of-37 in this series after his 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting in Game 2. He is 0-for-8 on 3s in two games. Irving’s teams have never beaten Boston since he left the Celtics in 2019, losing 12 straight.

Irving’s teams have never beaten Boston since he left the Celtics in 2019, losing 12 straight.


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Game 3 is at 8:30 p.m. eastern on Wednesday at Dallas’ American Airlines Center.

After practice Saturday, Mavs coach Jason Kidd, in an obvious attempt to sow division among his opponent, said that Brown, not the more decorated Tatum, was the Celtics’ best player. It’s not the kind of debate that gets settled in one game anyway, but Tatum shook off a poor shooting night to produce 18 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists.

Brown added 21 points, seven assists and three steals in the kind of two-way outing Kidd cited as his reasoning for saying what he said about Brown over Tatum. Late in the fourth quarter with Boston clinging to a 5-point lead, Brown (along with Derrick White) defended a would-be dunk from Dallas’ P.J. Washington, and then Brown converted a layup at the other end for a 105-98 lead with 29 seconds left.

“I’m really tired of hearing about one guy, or this guy or that guy, or everybody trying to make it out to be anything other than Celtic basketball,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Everybody who stepped on that court today made winning plays on both ends of the floor and that’s the most important thing.”

Holiday was the Celtics’ top man on the scoreboard Sunday. The lone champion on the roster, Holiday made 11-of-14 shots and contributed 11 rebounds. His perimeter defense has been a factor in Boston’s successful defensive game plan of placing Dončić and Irving on islands, cutting off the rest of the Dallas offense by stifling ball movement.

White finished with 18 points. During the play he and Brown made on Washington’s dunk attempt (White was credited with the block, but Brown was there too), White chased Washington from across the court to get in position to make the play.

“That was sick,” Mazzulla said.

Kidd had a different opinion. “It looked like a foul, but it wasn’t called so it wasn’t a foul,” Kidd said.

If there was one downside to the Celtics’ night, it’s that Kristaps Porziņģis may have aggravated his strained right calf that caused him to miss 10 playoff games. Porziņģis finished with 12 points on Sunday, but came up hobbling in the fourth quarter and struggled to get up and down the court before he was removed for the remainder of the game.

“Zero (concern),” Mazzulla said about Porziņģis. “He’s good.”

Dallas went to halftime with a 54-51 lead behind 23 points from Dončić. The Celtics gained control in the third quarter, leading by as many as 13, and Payton Pritchard pulled up from the NBA Finals logo and banked a 3 as time expired to send Boston to the fourth quarter with an 83-74 advantage.

“I think that was the play of the game, it can’t go unnoticed,” Mazzulla said of the Pritchard shot. “You see guys around the league pass up that shot, or fake like they don’t want to take it so that their numbers don’t get messed up. He takes pride in taking that (shot), and that’s winning basketball.

Dončić added 11 boards and 11 assists, shooting 12-of-21 from the field with four steals. Washington contributed 17 points and seven rebounds for the Mavericks, who were 2-of-13 on 3s in the second half. For the game, all Dallas players not named “Dončić” shot 2-of-17 from the 3-point line.

This story will be updated.

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(Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

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