Celtics survive rough outside shooting to take 2-0 lead in NBA Finals

Author: Editors Desk Source: The Washington Post
June 10, 2024 at 06:53
Mavericks forward P.J. Washington is blocked by the Celtics' Derrick White, center, as Jaylen Brown follows up late in the fourth quarter Sunday night in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
Mavericks forward P.J. Washington is blocked by the Celtics' Derrick White, center, as Jaylen Brown follows up late in the fourth quarter Sunday night in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)

In a sign of progress, Boston found a way during a 105-98 victory over the Mavericks to claim a 2-0 lead before the series shifts to Dallas.

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics have nowhere to hide on bad shooting nights: The Eastern Conference champions launch from outside with such frequency and devotion that their clanks become an inescapable chorus. In the past, that has been a crippling weakness and a key factor in infamous late-game playoff collapses.


It was an important sign of progress, then, that the Celtics survived one of their worst shooting nights of this postseason run to claim a 105-98 victory Sunday over the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden. If Boston could take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals on a night when the main thrust of its offense was so ineffective, Dallas was left to confront the possibility that it is simply outmatched.


Ironically, the toughest three-point attempt of them all — a banked-in heave at the third-quarter buzzer by Payton Pritchard, the diminutive reserve guard’s only make of the night — loosened the mood on a tense evening and set up Boston to bring home the victory in the final period.

“The play of the game that can’t go unnoticed, [that shows] the humility of our team, was Payton’s shot at the end of the quarter,” Coach Joe Mazzulla said. “You see guys around the league pass up on that shot or fake like they want to take it so their [shooting] numbers don’t get messed up. He takes pride in taking that. That’s winning basketball. That shot gave us a little bit of poise and momentum that we needed heading into the fourth quarter.”

Pritchard’s prayer boosted Boston’s lead from six points to nine heading into the fourth quarter, and Dallas never got closer than five the rest of the way. With the Mavericks mounting a desperate comeback bid and hoping to make it a one-possession game in the final minute, Celtics guard Derrick White raced down the court to block P.J. Washington at the rim. White tracked all the back from his position in front of Dallas’s bench, picking up pace as he crossed halfcourt before taking three long strides as he entered the paint to perfectly time his swat.

“I just put my head down and run,” White said. "Then just trust the instincts and trust the timing that I have. I got dunked on earlier [in the game]. Being not afraid to get dunked on allows me to get some [blocks] that other people wouldn’t have gotten. I just tried to make a play and believe in my abilities.”

Capitalizing on White’s block, Jaylen Brown opportunistically attacked the hoop on the other end for a dagger bucket with 29.8 seconds remaining. The Celtics improved to 5-0 in this postseason in games that were within five points in the final five minutes.

Boston’s breezy Game 1 victory became a distant memory as soon as Game 2 tipped off. The Celtics missed their first eight three-point attempts, coming up empty from outside until Al Horford finally connected from the left corner right before the end of the first quarter. Their slow start was made worse by Jayson Tatum’s indecision: The five-time all-star spent most of the early going in his own head, declining open scoring opportunities in favor of shuffling the ball to his teammates.

But the Celtics managed to take a 64-61 lead into halftime because the Mavericks were again unable to conjure enough help for Luka Doncic. The Slovenian star posted a game-high 32 points to go with 11 rebounds and 11 assists, but his teammates combined to shoot 2 for 17 from deep. Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving left a lot to be desired for the second straight game, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-18 shooting while facing constant boos from the TD Garden crowd.

After being listed as questionable on the pregame injury report with a chest contusion, Doncic was late to take the court for warmups and wore a bandage around his chest before tip-off. Though he led the Mavericks to Game 2 victories in their previous three series and came out hunting offense in the midrange, Doncic couldn’t keep up his furious scoring pace and had just nine points in the second half.

“I was okay [physically],” he said. “We’ve got to make some more shots. I think my [eight] turnovers and my [four] missed free throws cost us the game. I’ve got to do way better in those two categories.”