How did the Celtics stage their rally in Game 3? What changes can the desperate Mavericks make in Game 4? We reveal all in our Celtics vs. Mavericks prediction analysis.

This wasn’t how the Dallas Mavericks expected things to go on their home court.

When the matchup shifted to the American Airlines Center for Game 3, the Mavs put their sights on building some momentum with their fans behind them. And they started out strong, getting off to a 22-9 lead after the opening tip-off.

But ultimately, the Boston Celtics regrouped and prevailed on the road, winning 105-98 en route to a commanding 3-0 series lead.

How did the Celtics stage this turnaround? What adjustments (if any) can the Mavericks make in Game 4 (Friday on ABC/ESPN)? And is there only one game left in the 2024 postseason?

A Clinic in Team Basketball

One of the biggest takeaways from the 2024 NBA playoffs is that having good role players can be the difference between being first round fodder and seriously competing for a title. 

When it was announced that Kristaps Porzingis would miss the NBA Finals game in Dallas with a peculiar injury (and seemingly serious injury), it appeared the door was open for Mavericks. The Celtics were already viewed as a top-heavy team. And now, they were down one of those pieces.

On paper, the Mavericks were the deeper team heading into Game 3. But it looks like someone forgot to tell the Celtics’ ragtag bench unit. Xavier Tillman, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard all logged double-digit minutes and did a great job of not being liabilities on the defensive end.

Look at this montage of all three of them orchestrating isolation shutdowns on Dallas’ star tandem:

The Celtics’ other three “role players” (if you could even call players of that caliber role players) were all masterful. Jrue Holiday continued to make his case for the most underrated player of the last 25 years with his blend of defense, physicality and passing.

Al Horford, who just recently turned 38, had eight points, five rebounds, two steals and a block in nearly 37 minutes to fill in for Porzingis. And Derrick White acted as a Holiday body double while also spacing the floor from the perimeter with his 4-of-9 3-point shooting.

Speaking of shooting, Boston’s role players shot 11 for 24 (45.8%) from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Dallas’ role players were a pedestrian 4 of 12 (33.3%). This statistic is a microcosm of how much better the Celtics’ role players have been than the Mavericks’ complimentary guys all series.

This isn’t to say that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown didn’t show out as well. The Js combined for 61 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. But on a more granular level, the duo had arguably their best decision-making game of the series (maybe even their careers). 

As we mentioned after Game 1, the Mavericks have decided to overload the paint when Tatum or Brown have the ball and dare the forwards to take what the defense gives them. And in Game 3, they did just that (particularly Brown, who has played his way into the Finals MVP conversation):

Between their cavalcade of role players and pair of stars, the Celtics put together an all-around team performance that became too much for the West champs (and their flawed cast of role players) to overcome.

Any Hope Left for the Mavs?

Listen, I’m not going to sell you some pipe dream. The fact is there have been 156 occasions that a team has fallen behind 3-0 in a series, and 156 times that team has gone on to lose.

Given how historically good the Celtics have been this season (and in this series), it seems especially improbable that this will be the time history is made. But we are in an era of volume 3-point shooting and massive variance, so you never know what crazy results we could see.

Even though they are down, the Mavericks had a legitimate chance of winning with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter for the second straight game. It’s not like the Celtics are completely out of their league. And in Game 3, the Mavericks figured out some stuff that works.

For instance, after switching everything for most of Games 1 and 2, the Mavericks made a concerted effort to keep their centers – Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II – near the paint as much as possible. Look at how Lively calls for a pre-switch to stay near the rim:

In total, the Mavericks held the Celtics to just 36 points in the paint (the Mavericks had 52). The Celtics beat them, but they beat them with their jump shooting, not some merciless barrage at the rim. 

Speaking of struggling role players, the Mavericks may have realized which ancillary players can and can’t be assets for them moving forward. The Mavericks were a plus-6 in Lively’s nearly 30 minutes, meaning they were a minus-13 in his 18 minutes on the bench. On the inverse side, they were a -16 in Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 19-plus minutes. So, they were a +9 in the 28.5 minutes that he didn’t play. 

Josh Green and PJ Washington also put together some strong minutes, especially during Dallas’ fourth quarter comeback. Maybe, in Game 4, Dallas can shorten up their rotation and allocate as many minutes as possible to Luka Doncic (without fouling), Kyrie Irving, Washington, Green and Lively. After all, it is do-or-die at this point.

Dallas Role Players Finals Chart

After Game 2, I broke down how the Mavericks could look to diversify their offensive attack by using more Spain pick-and-rolls. We didn’t really see that in Game 3, but that could be another avenue they turn to in Game 4.

Game 4: Who Has the Edge?

Our win probability model calculates each team’s chances of winning based on thousands of simulations. Before Game 1, it gave the Celtics an 81.9% chance of winning the series.

Now, after the results of the first three games, the Celtics’ odds have increased from an 81.9% chance of winning to a 98.3% chance (a 16.4% increase). Factor that in with the long history of teams being dead in the water when they fall behind 3-0, and things don’t look pretty for Doncic and the Mavericks.

But as they say, it ain’t over until it’s over. Let’s see if the Mavericks can get up for one more fight, otherwise Boston will celebrate its record 18th NBA championship.

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