NBA Finals: Celtics survive Mavericks comeback to take 3-0 series lead

Despite a nightmare fourth quarter that nearly saw them squander a 21-point lead, the Boston Celtics are one win from claiming a record 18th NBA championship.

Boston held off a spirited comeback attempt from the Dallas Mavericks to win Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals 106-99 and take a 3-0 lead, all but putting the series away in front of the American Airlines Center crowd in Dallas. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.

Game 4 is scheduled for Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Dallas (ABC).

The Mavericks entered the game with some reason for hope after Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis, one of Boston's best players in Games 1 and 2, was ruled out due to a "rare" injury. That absence appeared to hurt Boston early on, as Dallas hammered the paint as it took an early 22-9 lead.

As they have many times this postseason, the Celtics quickly regrouped. They chipped away at the deficit until its was only one point by the end of the first quarter and played Dallas to a tie in the second quarter.

Then came the third quarter, when the bottom fell out for the Mavericks. Just as Dallas stars Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving began to tire, the Celtics hit them with a barrage of 3-pointers to take a commanding lead in the second half.

It could have been over from there, with Boston taking a 91-70 lead at 11:07 of the fourth quarter. But the Mavericks responded with a 22-2 run over the course of nearly eight minutes to cut the deficit to one. The blow that stifled that frenetic comeback ended up coming via whistle, when Dončić fouled out of the game with 4:12 remaining.

It was the first time Dončić had fouled out all season and in his postseason career.

Without Dončić, the Mavericks fell short of pulling off the comeback. And now they need to mount an even bigger comeback for the series.

Dončić exited with 27 points on 27 shots, six assists and six rebounds, while Irving led all scorers with 35 points on 13-of-28 shooting. The Mavericks have relied on their two-man game for much of the playoffs, but it was the Celtics' duo that made the bigger difference overall.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had their first 30-point games of the series. Tatum had 31 points (mostly in the first half), six rebounds and five assists, while Brown came on strong in the second half to post 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Here's how it all played out, with Yahoo Sports NBA experts Jake Fischer, Vincent Goodwill and Dan Devine explaining every swing of Game 3 of the Finals.

  • Mavs storm back and are down 3

    Say this for the Mavs: They’re not going down without a fight. After a Jrue Holiday foul, Kyrie’s three free throws run the tab up to a 23-2 Dallas run, and we’ve got a one possession game in the final five minutes. Crunch time in the NBA Finals. Hell yeah.

  • Mavs show some life

    The Mavs came out of their last timeout playing like a team that knows its season is on the line. A 10-0 run in less than three minutes, capped by Josh Green knocking in a catch-and-shoot 3 from the wing off a Luka dish, has Boston’s lead down to 11, with 8:23 remaining.

  • Mavs get something going

    Not so fast ... Dallas' comeback effort here in the start of the fourth is brewing, trimming a 21-point deficit back down to 11. It has featured some quality efforts — finally — from non-Donic/Irving Mavericks: a Josh Green triple, a long ball from PJ Washington, a putback from Lively.

  • Boston 3 party

    That Derrick White stepback 3 was the Celtics’ 16th of the night, on their 40th attempt. Coming into tonight, Boston was 51-10 when it got up at least 40 long balls; with a 21-point lead, they’re 11 minutes away from making it 52-10.

  • Will the Mavs show some fight?

    It feels like that Jaylen Brown dunk was an announcement that matters have concluded. Not just tonight, but for the season. 85-70, Celtics lead.

  • Boston in firm control

    Absolute dominance from Boston coming out of halftime — a 35-19 third quarter, punctuated by a hot-knife-through-butter drive and tomahawk dunk by Jaylen Brown, right down Broadway. The Celtics enter the fourth with a 15-point lead, 85-70, and are just 12 minutes away from putting the Mavericks in a 3-0 hole out of which no team has ever climbed.

  • Dallas done?

    This game feels over. This series feels over. The Jumbotron camera just panned to Patrick Mahomes sitting courtside. The MC is asking for the crowd to make some noise. And it is just absolutely dead in here.

  • Jaylen Brown rising to the challenge

    Jaylen Brown senses blood in the water. He's in Luka's pocket any chance he . He is driving downhill like a running back who's seen a hole in the offensive line. A continued two-way brilliance for the All-Star wing who wanted to prove himself to be much more than a scorer this season.

  • Mavs hitting a wall?

    The Mavericks’ offense, time and again, is to force a switch in the pick-and-roll to hunt a perceived mismatch. But those perceived mismatches hold their own — as Al Horford, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard have on multiple occasions tonight, and as Xavier Tillman just did. Dallas doesn’t have a whole lot of places to go. Now down to 21-for-39 (53.8%) in the paint, with just one corner 3 on two corner attempts.

  • Boston comes out of halftime locked in

    Whatever Joe Mazzulla said to the Celtics in the locker room — maybe something about killer whales, or UFC fighters hitting each other below the belt? — he might want to write it down to use it again next game. Boston scores on its first six possessions of the second half, capped by a Jayson Tatum catch-and-shoot 3 set up by a Jaylen Brown drive-and-kick — Brown has seven assists, BTW — and Jason Kidd wants a timeout with the C’s up five, 64-59.

  • Tatum likes Game 3s

    Jayson Tatum told me after Game 3 against Indiana these were his favorite matchups of a series. He loves to silence a road crowd in these third games, and his latest three gives him 25 and a 64-59 Boston lead

  • Tatum and the Celtics get a little lead

    Tatum’s offense has arrived in Dallas. And his teammates have joined the party. 64-59 Celtics lead.

  • Or are the Mavs in a groove?

    What you feel good about if you’re the Mavericks: Luka and Kyrie continue to find matchups they like in the pick-and-roll; after struggling to make shots on the interior in Games 1 and 2, you’ve got a 30-16 edge in points in the paint at halftime; and you’re finally generating some extra shots, with six second-chance possessions leading to six second-chance points.

  • This is how the NBA Finals should be

    A lot of matchup hunting, a lot of step-backs, and we have the best game of the series so far. Both teams feel far more in rhythm than we saw in Boston, and this should make for a high-octane finish.

  • Celtics sitting pretty?

    What you feel good about if you’re the Celtics: Nearly 85% of your shots in the first half came either at the rim or from beyond the 3-point arc; you’ve finally got Tatum going; Tillman, Hauser and Pritchard are getting attacked, but have mostly held up. If any of Jaylen Brown (2-for-6), Derrick White (1-for-7) or Jrue Holiday (2-for-6) catch a rhythm on the kinds of looks you like, you’re in good shape.

  • It's a different game in Dallas

    Jayson Tatum didn’t make more than six shots or score more than 18 points in either of the first two games in Boston. He’s already topped both here, pouring in 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting to carry the load for a Celtics team trying to weather the storm in Dallas. The Celtics have needed every one of those points to keep up with Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić (37 combined points on 50% shooting) as they’ve fueled a 51-50 Mavs edge at the half.

  • Tatum keeping Boston in it

    Jayson Tatum is the only thing keeping this from being a blowout. He has 20 in the first half and it's tied at 50. Well over half the C’s shots are from 3.

  • Kyrie is doing his thing

    Kyrie Irving missed his first nine 3-pointers of the 2024 NBA Finals. He’s made his last four — three in this second quarter alone, including a pair of nasty stepbacks over Boston contests — and has 20 points in 19 minutes. This is the shot-making that Dallas has desperately needed; so far, their second star is playing like one.

  • Kyrie, Tatum hitting from distance

    Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving have both found their strokes. Irving is now 4-of-5 from deep after another step-back triple. Tatum is 3-of-6, drilling deep ones off the bounce as well, with 2:36 left in the second.

  • Now we have a game

    This has settled into an actual playoff game, with offense hard to come by. Then Kyrie and Tatum go back to back with triples.

  • Xavier Tillman up and down

    It has been an up-and-down showing for Xavier Tillman so far. After standing tall and getting Luka to miss on a switch, he's called for a moving screen. Next possession, he forces a miss from Irving on a switch.

  • Boston getting comfortable

    Dallas opens the second quarter with three turnovers, a few missed jumpers by Luka and Kyrie, and a missed dunk by Dereck Lively II — finally got a clean look at a lob and clanked it! — and Boston opens it continuing to get its drive-and-kick game going. A Derrick White catch-and-shoot 3, and just like that: Celtics lead, 35-33, with just under eight minutes to go before halftime.

  • Dereck Lively making presence felt

    Dereck Lively has brought a ton of energy after two tough games in Boston. He's forced two balls out of bounds to retain possession, even though he couldn't grab the offense rebound. Got on the floor to secure a steal guarding Jaylen Brown in space. Great showing from the rookie.

  • Boston finishes the 1st strong

    Rough close to the quarter for the Mavs: two missed stepback 3s by Luka, with him going to the ground on both of them, and the Celtics getting transition buckets on both. A Sam Hauser 3 followed by a Jayson Tatum dunk with one second left on the clock have Boston within a point, 31-30, after 12 minutes. Strong response for the C’s who trailed 22-9 just over the halfway mark of the first.

  • Celtics digging deep

    Xavier Tillman and Sam Hauser getting burn, more Hauser at the moment. How deep will Boston’s bench be tonight?

  • Dante finally takes off

    And with that tomahawk dunk on Jayson Tatum, Dante Exum just made everyone who was excited about him in the 2014 NBA Draft retroactively right. Sometimes, it just takes 10 years.

  • Celtics finally get going

    Welcome to the NBA Finals, Xavier Tillman! The lightly used big man backtracks in transition, induces a miss on Jaden Hardy’s attempted layup, and helps get the Celtics out on the break, finished with a Jaylen Brown layup. After a shaky start, Boston’s defense has started to appear, with the stops fueling a 10-3 Celtics run that forced a Dallas timeout. Game on.

  • Mavs doing it all

    No Porzingis means no rim protection for Boston. The Mavs are scoring at will in the paint, and just like that, Kyrie hits his first triple of the Finals. A welcome sign and Mavs are up big, 25-12.

  • Mavs hunting matchups

    The Mavericks have found two matchups they like: Kyrie Irving attacking Al Horford, and Luka Dončić attacking Jayson Tatum. Midway through the first quarter, the Dallas stars have combined for 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, nearly doubling up the Celtics by themselves.

  • Xavier Tillman gets early minutes for Boston

    With Kristaps Porzingis out for Game 3, and perhaps out for the entire series, Xavier Tillman is the first man off Boston's bench after there was plenty of discussion and speculation about whether that role would go to Luke Kornet.

  • Dallas playing with tempo

    Dallas is absolutely playing with a faster tempo and pace, getting into their actions earlier, setting ball screens at half-court. The Mavs' offense has a much greater sense of urgency to start things off.

  • Mavs heeding coach's advice

    Jason Kidd has been preaching for the last several days about the importance of Dallas avoiding live-ball turnovers; he said before Game 3 that he’d rather his Mavericks throw the ball into the stands and give the fans a souvenir than give the Celtics a chance to run out off a steal and get a layup or a dunk.

    Even better: Dallas generating some of those plays themselves — like Derrick Jones Jr. did, stealing the ball from Jayson Tatum and getting a runout layup off it, part of a red-hot 9-2 start for the Mavs.

  • Mavs start hot

    Well, folks. The Mavs came to play. Luka cashed a snatch-back triple on the left wing, but there's been a noticeably different feel from Dallas trying to get downhill and attack the rim to get things started here. Mavs lead 9-2 early.

  • For Luka Dončić and the Mavericks, a little help could go a long way

    Following his team's Game 2 loss in the NBA Finals, Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said, "We've got to find someone to join Luka [Dončić] and Kyrie [Irving] in that scoring category," and that's an understatement.

    The Mavericks, who trail the series, 2-0, also need more scoring from Irving, but the other shooters in their rotation — P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones Jr., Maxi Kleber and Josh Green — averaged a combined 28 points on 37.7% shooting (15.8 3P%) through the first two games of the Finals. During three previous playoff rounds, those four averaged more points per game (33.2) on higher efficiency (45.1 FG%, 38.1 3P%).

    During the regular season, they averaged 32.9 points per game on 46.2% shooting (34.8 3P%).

    What is most interesting about those numbers: Their production through three rounds of the playoffs — upset wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves — was not exceptionally outlying, though their 3-point percentage improved from below average to well above.

    Read the full story here.

  • Fashion forwards

  • How Kristaps Porziņģis' injury impacts series for Celtics and Mavericks

    In the moments after Boston’s win in Game 2 of the 2024 NBA Finals, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said he had no concern about the leg injury that center Kristaps Porziņģis appeared to suffer in the second half of the 105-98 victory.

    “No, he's good,” Mazzulla said.

    Neither, for that matter, did Porziņģis, who played just three minutes and 26 seconds in the fourth quarter of Game 2 before checking out for good with 4:40 to go.

    “Feeling good,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t think it’s anything serious.”

    So … about that:

    All it took was a late-breaking news release, dropped just as the Celtics opened their media availability at American Airlines Center on Tuesday, to send sports fans and reporters alike searching for a med-school speed run that might allow them to become experts in the ins and outs of the medial retinaculum. (First step in the process? Learning there’s more than one of them.)

    The Celtics’ news-release claim that the “torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibalis tendon in [Porziņģis’] left leg” is a “rare injury” is backed up by the fact that athletic trainer and injury expert Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes says he has “only one real [comparison]” for the tear in his extensive database.

    Read the full story here.

  • The calm before the storm

  • Jason Kidd talks adjustments

  • Kyrie Irving remains the focus as the Mavs try to avoid a 3-0 hole

    The NBA Finals haven’t gone according to plan for Kyrie Irving, Luka Dončić’s running mate who’s yet to put his stamp on this series.

    He’s seeing plenty of bodies, and they’re all equipped to defend him or at least make things tough. So far, they’re winning the battle — Irving hasn’t made a 3-pointer despite getting some good looks and is shooting just 35.1% through the first two games.

    What’s more, he hasn’t gotten to the line much and defensively the Celtics are putting him in spots where Irving has to be on the back line, meaning he’s more susceptible to being in foul trouble.

    In summation, if he doesn’t turn it around and quickly, the Dallas Mavericks will be facing elimination Friday night. Irving said he reached out to Dončić to take accountability for not playing well, saying he has to play better.

    Read the full story here.

  • Celtics rule out Kristaps Porzingis for Game 3

    If the Boston Celtics want to take a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals, they'll have to do it without Kristaps Porzingis.

    The Celtics ruled Porzingis out for Game 3 against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday with a left leg injury.