Celtics and Mavericks lean on dynamic duos to take 2-1 leads in their respective semifinal series

Sun, May 12, 2024
NBA News (AP)

Celtics and Mavericks lean on dynamic duos to take 2-1 leads in their respective semifinal series

CLEVELAND (AP) - Their names are alike and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown's games are so intertwined they sometimes feel like one Boston player and not two.

The big bucket makers give the Celtics quite a dynamic duo.

Dallas has developed a special one as well.

With Luka Doncic dealing with an assortment of injuries - "everything" hurt after Saturday's game, he said - Kyrie Irving made several clutch plays in the second half as the Mavericks beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-101 to take a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

"He's doing everything he can on both sides of the floor, just getting to the basket and passing the ball and defending," an aching Doncic said after he and Irving scored 22 points apiece. "He's been great for us."

Leaning on Tatum and Brown, who combined for 61 points, the Celtics rebounded from a poor performance at home with a 106-93 win in Game 3 over the Cavaliers to also go up 2-1 in a series that has so far mirrored what Boston did against Miami in the first round.

Tatum scored 33 points and Brown added 28 as the Celtics opened the second half with a 14-0 blitz that quieted Cleveland's thundering crowd and stripped some of the confidence Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs built with a stunning road win in Game 2.

READ MORE Hawks win NBA lottery in year where there's no clear choice for No. 1 pick Mitchell has 33 points, but Cavaliers can't contain Tatum and Brown in Game 3 loss to Celtics Mavericks take 2-1 series lead with 105-101 Game 3 victory over Thunder

Tatum's performance - he added 13 rebounds and six assists - should temporarily quiet some of the outside criticism directed at the 26-year-old. Tatum was aware of pointed comments made about everything from his shot selection to leadership.

But with so much at stake, he's not worrying about whether he's being respected.

"My job is to be the best player that I can be for our team on any given night," Tatum said. "Yeah, I would love to make every shot I take. I know I can shoot better, and I will. At this time of the season, as long as we win and we're trending in the right direction, I know my scoring will come. I've done that plenty of times.

"I just try to impact the game in other ways and just dominate. Dominate the game and not just be defined as a scorer."

Along with his points, the Mavericks are counting on Doncic's healing powers to be ready for Game 4 on Monday night.

Already slowed by a sprained knee and bad ankle, he has added a sore back to his long list of ailments after taking a hard fall in the final minutes of Game 3.

Doncic undoubtedly will push himself to play, but the Mavericks, who got 27 points from P.J. Washington Jr. in Game 3, are confident they can win without him.

"We've been here before, we're not built on one guy," coach Jason Kidd said. "We're built on a team. ... It's not golf where we just have a player and a caddie. This is a group that believes that if somebody is hurting, they are going to pick them up."

CELTICS AT CAVALIERS

Boston leads, 2-1. Game 4, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Maybe it's due to a sense of urgency or desperation, but the Celtics seem more comfortable on the road in the playoffs. A somewhat surprising 14-14 at home over the past three postseasons, they are 17-7 outside of Boston and 3-0 this year. ... After a competitive first quarter in Game 3, the Cavs couldn't keep up with the Celtics, who led for 42 minutes.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Mitchell. While he's not complaining about a lack of support, it's becoming more apparent the Cavs don't have enough complementary pieces around him to challenge for a title. Mitchell has been sensational, averaging 36.8 points in his last five games. But he's having to shoulder too much by himself as Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro and others have been inconsistent.

- INJURY WATCH: Mobley played through rolling his ankle in the second half, but wasn't as effective when he returned and finished with 17 points. He's been forced to play center with Jarrett Allen still sidelined by a painful rib injury. Allen has missed the past six games and there are no signs he'll be back anytime soon. ... The Cavs got a boost from Dean Wade's return from a knee injury, and he could get more playing time as coach J.B. Bickerstaff found success in the second half with a "five-out" lineup that spaces the floor with shooters.

- PRESSURE IS ON: The Cavs. They handed back home-court advantage and can't get down 3-1 in the series and expect to win in Boston again. Garland needs to give Mitchell some relief and Cleveland has to get more from its role players.

THUNDER AT MAVERICKS

Dallas leads, 2-1. Game 4, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT

- NEED TO KNOW: Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is doing his part, scoring the way he did while finishing the regular season third in scoring. The Mavs owe at least some of their series lead to Washington in his first postseason. He has scored 56 points in the past two games, providing a first-half boost while Doncic and Irving slowly have worked their way into back-to-back victories.

- KEEP AN EYE ON: Doncic's shooting. The sprained right knee was a factor in him shooting 39.5% overall and 24% from 3-point range through his first seven games of the playoffs. After a bounce-back in Game 2, it was a little rough for the NBA scoring champion again with slightly shorter rest because of an afternoon game. Doncic was 7 of 17 and 1 of 4 from deep. The infrequency of 3s is as telling as anything. It was his fewest attempts in 37 playoff games.

- INJURY WATCH: Mavericks center Daniel Gafford injured his left shoulder in the second quarter in an inadvertent collision with OKC's Josh Giddey. He returned for the second half but played just six minutes. Because Dallas is already without center-forward Maxi Kleber with a separated shoulder, Gafford's availability will be a factor. ... Thunder forward Jalen Williams injured his left ankle in the third quarter. He appeared to be in significant pain but returned in the fourth quarter and played the final 10:22.

- PRESSURE IS ON: The Thunder have to find a winning formula after holding Dallas to 43% shooting, including 33% from 3 after the Mavs had their best game from deep in the playoffs in Game 2. The answer is probably somewhere in Gilgeous-Alexander's supporting cast. Chet Holmgren's rim protection has been important, but his offensive impact hasn't been the same since the Game 1 win.

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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.

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