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Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum Reach Within One Win of a Celtics Title

DALLAS — Jaylen Brown lined up Kyrie Irving with the two-for-one in place. All series, he and Jayson Tatum saw crowds as large as three in the paint. Brown saw a rare open path in front of him and took it with one hand — screaming into the rim microphone.

“I wanted to make sure we got a good quality look,” Brown said. “I’d been making those passes in the first half, and they didn’t want to give those threes up, so they were kind of in-between. When I seen that, it was lights out.”

That sounded haunted Dallas fans, who started the night as loud as any opposing crowd all season, cheering when the public address announcer told them Kristaps Porziņģis would sit out the game with his latest injury.

The Mavericks began the game with four straight makes, shooting 5-for-6 and keeping a jam-packed American Airlines Arena engaged in a standing ovation. Irving and Luka Dončić forced a Boston timeout less than two minutes into the game. A potential last punch to get back into the NBA Finals at the start and end of Game 3 both failed to overcome a clearly different Celtics team that reached its 10th straight win, 106-99, to tie the third-longest win streak in one postseason. Brown, Tatum and Boston now need one win to secure the championship.

It didn’t look like the night would end that way early. Irving re-appeared. Dončić hit two shots, inside and out, past Tatum. Daniel Gafford brought back the lob. Boston trailed 25-12 after Irving beat Al Horford and Xavier Tillman Sr. The Mavericks appeared back while the Celtics looked dramatically impacted by losing Porziņģis, who Adrian Wojnarowski reported is doubtful for the rest of the series with a left leg injury.

But Brown and Tatum quickly led Boston back, extending a 7-0 run playing in the open court to 18-6 through the end of the first quarter with a four-point play where Tatum hit a defensive three second free throw and Sam Hauser buried a three. Another Hauser transition three fell after Dončić failed to convert while stepping back against Horford. Dončić settled for another three on the next possession before White lobbed a full court pass to Tatum, who dunked underneath.

The Celtics trailed by one point, and three empty Mavs possessions later, including one where Payton Pritchard stopped Dončić twice, Boston took the lead with Brown cutting to the rim to catch a Horford feed for a finish.

“If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone and you think you’re about to beat them, you usually get sucker punched,” Joe Mazzulla told the team before the game. “So the closer you are to thinking you’re going to beat them up, the closer you are to losing. The closer you think you’re gonna submit someone is usually when you get submitted.”

It’s not the first time Mazzulla showed the team a fight video as an analogy, Jrue Holiday recalled.

On call, Dallas held the line, leading by one at halftime after a 20-20 second quarter, but whileDončić fell to 7-for-16, Boston continued to attack him on offense (11-21 FG), Tatum turning the corner past him then dumping the ball to Brown for a dunk to begin the second half.

Brown and Tatum combined for 61 points, scoring 30 each on 23-for-48 shooting and feeding each other for three baskets in the third quarter while posting 22 of them in the third quarter. Brown kicked to Tatum for three, Brown screened to free Tatum for a three that he missed. Then, three passes following Tatum’s screen into a post-up on Irving set up Brown for a corner three. They didn’t always connect directly, but Brown and Tatum linked up as often as ever during a 35-19 third that vaulted Boston ahead by 21 points into the fourth. It took less than five minutes for the Celtics to squander nearly the entire lead. Unlike past games where that might’ve flipped, as recently as last postseason, Boston held on and never lost it.

“That lead dwindled fast,” Brown said. “They storm back, that’s what the beauty of basketball is, you can never let up, there’s always time. They were able to cut the lead, but in those moments, those are the moments you have to live for. We’ve been in those moments a lot. We just needed to be patient, be poised. I felt like we got some good looks, the defensive intensity ramped up, the officiating got a little bit tighter. At the end of the day, you gotta make plays … we’ve been in those positions and we’ve lost, so it was great to overcome that with brother Jayson and the rest of our team. That was special.”

PJ Washington hit a three, Dončić scored through Pritchard inside then nearly bodied him out of the way for a step-back three. Dereck Lively poured the miss back in to cut seven off the lead over three possessions, Boston slowing down and settling for jump shots before the turnovers began flowing. Tatum and Brown gave the ball away, Horford traveled on a handoff and a 25-3 Mavs run made it 93-90 Celtics. Boston kept hunting Doncic, though, and seconds after committing a fifth foul defending Brown in the post, Dončić unsuccessfully tried to stay in front of the Celtics star. Dallas’ challenge only showed an indisputable blocking foul, and he left the game with 4:12 remaining.

The Mavs only received a one possession bump, Irving pulling the Mavs back within one from mid-range while Brown’s put-back on a Tatum miss and a Holiday kick-out to White for three gave Boston a six-point advantage. White drove on the following possession, dumping to Tatum who took his own opportunity to scream into the rim microphone while dunking.

Brown held off one last Mavs rally to within two with a mid-range pull up before one last Irving scare, stepping back down four into his famous right corner, fell short. Brown and Tatum embraced — one win from banner 18.

“It’s awesome. I don’t even really have words,” Brown said. “It doesn’t feel real right now. I’m just trying to stay in the moment. It feels great to be up 3-0 in the series, but the job’s not done … all year long, we’ve been hearing about the Celtics of the past … all the different shortcomings we’ve had in the past. This is a new team … you can see that we didn’t run from it. We stepped up to the plate and we found a way to win.”


Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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