2024 NBA Finals: The biggest questions from the Celtics Mavericks' Game 4

The NBA Finals won't end in a sweep, as Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks put on a show in a dominant Game 4 victory against the Boston Celtics.

The convincing 122-84 victory at the American Airlines Center gave the Mavs their first victory of the series, with Dončić scoring 29 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists and Kyrie Irving contributing 21 points and 6 assists. The Celtics duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were held to 15 and 10 points, respectively, the lowest of the series.

The Celtics still hold a 3-1 lead as the series returns to Boston for Game 5 at TD Garden, where the team will look to close out the series and win its 18th NBA championship. Dallas took the first step in what will be an uphill battle against the Celtics: No NBA team has overcome a three-game deficit to win a playoff series.

How did the Mavericks recover to get their first win of the series? What went wrong for the Celtics and what do they need to get back on track? Our NBA insiders break down Dallas' dominant performance and what to expect for Monday's Game 5 (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

What did Dallas finally do right in Game 4?

Tim MacMahon: Luka Dončić was locked in and the Mavs followed suit. Dončić listened to the criticism after the third game and responded in the right way. He avoided the distraction of complaining to referees and instead devoted that energy to the defensive effort and interacting with his teammates. He also attacked offensively efficiently, scoring 22 of his 29 points in the paint. Dončić's fighting spirit and concentration was contagious. The Mavs, especially rookie great Dereck Lively II, did the same and physically dominated the Celtics.

Chris Herring: Everyone, including Dončić, finally accepted the challenge of sitting back and defending the Celtics when they left the ball on the court. Kyrie Irving battled with Jayson Tatum, forcing the All-NBA wing to make a blitz decision. The Mavs attacked during a separate Boston possession and the Celtics were penalized for a shot clock violation. Most notable, perhaps, was the fact that Dončić competed on defense, forcing misses on the Celtics' first six attempts with him as the primary defender. (He forced Jrue Holiday, someone who hadn't committed a single turnover the entire series, into four turnovers when he served as Holiday's primary defender.) Those elements helped Dallas limit the Celtics to just 35 points in the first half, their lowest ever. -Average scored under the direction of head coach Joe Mazzulla.

Ramona Shelburne: I knew something was different when Dereck Lively II hit a 3-pointer (his first and third attempt all season) in the first quarter. There are all kinds of reasons why Dallas lost the first three games of this series, but one of the biggest was simply math. Boston was relentless in its three-point attack, and the Mavericks swam against the current the entire time. You simply can't keep up when a team is taking 56 percent of its shots from behind the 3-point arc and taking them at a decent rate.

Dallas didn't have to match the Celtics' production, but the differential couldn't be as big as it was (+31) in three games in NBA history. On Friday night, the Celtics made 41 3-pointers and the Mavericks made 37. That opened up the rest of the floor for the Mavericks, who have an advantage in the paint with Lively and Daniel Gafford, and finally evened the score, which had been accumulated. against them all the series.



Legler: Luka “responded to the challenge”

Legler: Luka 'answered the challenge' Tim Legler credits Luka Doncic's improved play for the Mavericks' blowout victory in Game 4.

What stopped the Celtics from finishing this with a sweep?

Herring: As much as Dallas did its part by defending harder, the Celtics also shot much worse on open looks early in the game than they did in the first three games of the series. Boston shot over 50% on open looks in each of the previous three first halves. But they were just 3-for-9 on their open attempts before halftime of Game 4, by which time they were already down 26.

That covers part of what was wrong with Boston's offense. But the defense? Unusually, the Celtics' effort was more than shaky; particularly once the Mavs started to struggle in the third period. It wasn't a title-clinching effort, to say the least.

Shelburne: Dončić and Irving finally played the type of games that had propelled the Mavericks to the Western Conference playoffs, finishing with 49 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists combined. Each of them deserves a lot of credit, especially given the criticism they have faced after the first three losses.

However, the biggest difference in this game was Dallas' reserves. Lively's valiant effort gave the Mavs an inside presence and ultimately helped take advantage of the lack of rim protection for Boston, who was without Kristaps Porzingis for the second straight game due to his left foot injury. Dallas had gotten very little from any of its reserves throughout the series, leading coach Jason Kidd to play 11 guys in Game 3, searching in vain for any kind of production. Lively gave it to them with scores and rebounds that set the tone for the entire game.

MacMahon: You have to give the Mavs credit, but this was a bust by a Boston team that seemed to think it was ready for duck boats and the championship parade. The Mavs scored 22 points in the paint in the first quarter, an embarrassing total for the Celtics to concede. It probably would have helped if Porziņģis and his rim protection were available, but Dallas was determined to be the aggressor and Boston didn't respond to punches to the mouth. Mazzulla waved the white flag, bringing out his starters with 3:18 left in the third quarter.



JJ Redick: That was 'a bad impersonation of the Boston Celtics'

JJ Redick and Doris Burke join “Sportscenter” and react to the Celtics' loss to the Mavericks in Game 4.

Back to Boston. This series ends in Game 5 if ___.

Shelburne: The Celtics shoot better than 36 percent from the field. That sounds simple, but it is when you make as many threes as the Celtics. Boston lives by all 3 and sometimes dies by them too. When they make threes, they have space to drive and post up. When they are not, that space closes and it becomes more difficult to enter the offensive system that he classified as the best in NBA history. Porzingis was supposed to be the antidote to games where Boston didn't shoot well. His unique skill set creates matchup advantages every time he is on the court. After missing another game due to his injury, it remains to be seen what his availability will be for the rest of the series.

MacMahon: The Celtics appear and the ghosts of the Garden continue to torment Irving. He finally beat his former team for the first time since he stepped on the cartoon leprechaun logo's eye, but he still hasn't won in Boston since that 2021 playoff series when he was with the Brookly Nets. The Mavs will need the version of Irving they got in the last two games, and most of the time all season, to pull off a road upset and bring the series back to Dallas.

Herring: The Celtics take a deep breath and regroup, then force Dallas to rotate by moving the ball better. Yes, the Mavericks played with much greater effort on defense. But it's worth remembering that Boston was getting what it wanted when driving to the basket in the first three games. The Mavs tightened up in Game 4 and seemed to catch the Celtics off guard. Boston's style of play and willingness to compete consistently on both ends of the floor should eventually win out, and it wouldn't be surprising if that happened in Game 5.

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