Living for another day

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Someone said the Dallas Mavericks faced desperation or resignation entering Game Four of the NBA Finals yesterday morning (Manila time) with the Boston Celtics a win away from a sweep. Nobody mentioned survival. For sure, the Mavs were desperate but they weren’t resigned to the prospect of losing before the home crowd at the American Airlines Center.

Refusing to be embarrassed, the Mavs played their best against the Celtics and not only lived for another day but dealt Boston a whipping the Men In Green will want to forget. It was Dallas’ first triumph over Boston the entire campaign, including two regular season meetings. “We were desperate,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd admitted. “They were ready to celebrate. But the hardest thing in this league is to close the door.”

When Dallas tightened the screws and held the Celtics to 14 points in the second quarter, it appeared that Boston threw in the towel. The Celtics probably looked to just preserve themselves to clinch in Game Five at home. The danger of raising the white flag too early is it could lead to self-doubt and the attitude may carry over to the next game. With momentum suddenly on Dallas’ side, the Mavs might pull off another upset.

In Game Four, Luka Doncic played a lot off-the-ball, finding a comfort zone inside the two-point area and securing possession with Boston’s defense on its heels. The Celtics’ defense collapsed in the face of Doncic’s aggressiveness and it allowed the Mavs to move the ball around in locating the open man. As a result, for the first time in the Finals, Dallas wound up with more assists, 21-18. Doncic went 0-of-8 from three but still managed 29 points, adjusting his offense to keep Boston’s defense guessing.

Kristaps Porzingis missed his second straight game with a torn tendon in the lower left leg and his absence allowed Dallas’ bigs Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively to frolic inside the paint. Lively, in particular, was a huge thorn with 11 points and 12 rebounds. In all, the Mavs had more boards, 52-31, more offensive rebounds, 13-4 and less turnovers, 9-14, leading to a 91-80 edge in field goal attempts because of the extra possessions. Dallas won, 122-84 and it’s the first time the Mavs fired at least 100 in the Finals.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hardly made an impact, combining for 25 points when they averaged 49.9 together in the regular season. They logged only 27 minutes each with coach Joe Mazzulla opting to spare them from being on the floor too long as Dallas rampaged. The last team to be swept in the Finals was Cleveland by Golden State in 2018 and Dallas didn’t want to go down in history as following in the Cavs’ footsteps. The Mavs go back to Boston with the same sense of desperation in Game Five on Tuesday morning (Manila time) but whether they survive or not will depend on their ability to overcome the odds of beating the Celtics at the TD Garden. Boston is 8-2 at home while Dallas is 7-4 on the road in the playoffs.

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