An Exhibition by Luka Doncic Keeps the Dallas Mavericks Alive in the NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks (Credit: Getty Images)

A street near the Mavericks’ arena is named after Dirk Nowitzki, the German star who gave the team its only NBA championship ring. With games like this Friday, one day another street in Dallas will be named after Luka Doncic. The Slovenian guard gave a basketball exhibition in the fourth game of the NBA final, best of seven, and the Mavericks managed to crush their rivals by surprise. The Celtics had started the series with three 3 consecutive victories, so for the Mavericks it was a game of life or death.

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The hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans in green shirts who flocked to the American Airlines Center hoping to see the Celtics win their first title since 2008 will have to wait. Maybe they can celebrate in Boston on Monday. This Friday, the overwhelming superiority that the Celtics had shown in the first games disappeared in both rings. The Mavericks dismantled the opponent’s defense for the first time and neutralized their attack. They won 122-84. We will have to see if it is a one-day flower and no team has come back from 3-0 down.

The game was decided in the first half. The 34-21 score in the first quarter, with 13 points from Doncic, indicated a path that Dallas had not followed in all the finals. A difference of 13 points in a single quarter was something they had not achieved in any of the 12 quarters of the previous three games. They continued on that path until halftime, which was reached with a 61-35 advantage in favor of the locals. The Slovenian had 25 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds and together with Kyrie Irving’s 11 points, they were enough to surpass the rival score. Not even the 6 missed free throws—the Mavericks have a serious problem from the line—in the first half took their toll on them. A difference of 26 points at halftime was enough advantage to hold out until the end.

For anyone who had seen the first three games of the final, it was difficult to believe what was happening on the hardwood. After the break, Doncic gave way (he finished the game with 29 points in 33 minutes), but the Dallas team continued to extend the lead to 90-52, which was almost humiliating for the visitors. Before the end of the 3rd quarter, a series of 3-pointers by Boston reduced the lead to 92-60 at the end of the third quarter, but the game was still decided.

With the crowd chanting MVP, Doncic was the undoubted star of the night. He was feeling the credit of the Slovenian star a little damaged. He was condemned for a lack of defensive commitment, little concentration on free throws, a game that was too individualistic, and being too attentive to the referees. In the third game he was eliminated due to six fouls and the Mavericks failed what was pointing to a historic comeback.

Doncic himself seemed crestfallen, tormented, self-critical. This Friday he freed himself. He gave his all on the field, he pressed the defense as hard as anyone, but he felt like he owned the game from the beginning, and that despite the fact that he didn’t make a single 3-pointer. He chose to make shots to the basket, mid-distance shots and distribute the game and with that, plus the fouls that he forced, he added and added. The Mavericks may (almost certainly) not win the title, but the Slovenian guard has another notch on his revolver: he has already won at least one game in the finals. Those from Dallas had not won a finals game since he gave them the ring with Nowitzki in 2011.

Under Doncic’s leadership, the entire team was more in tune. Kyrie Irving did not stand out, but he delivered, with 26 points, six assists, and four rebounds. Center Derek Lively II mastered the rebounds (12) and had a couple of spectacular streaks that got the audience out of their seats. Daniel Gafford presented his character, both in defense and attack. PJ Washington, Derrick Jones, and the substitutes sharpened their aim from the 3-point line. Veteran Tim Hardaway Jr. scored five three-pointers in the fourth quarter, the second-highest mark ever recorded in a quarter in the NBA Finals.

Those from Dallas, who had not managed to reach 100 points in any of the previous three games, this time achieved it with nine and a half minutes left in the game. The difference was so wide that Mavericks coach Jason Kidd allowed himself the luxury of giving both Doncic and Irving ample rest in the fourth quarter. And it turned out that the substitutes were also in tune. In the end, the difference in the score of this game in favor of the Dallas team was greater than that accumulated in the first three for the Celtics.

The 38-point margin of victory is the third-largest in an NBA Finals game, behind the Chicago Bulls’ 42-point victory over the Utah Jazz (96-54) in Game 3 in 1998 and the Celtics’ 39-point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers (131-92) in Game 6 of 2008.

Those from Boston were unrecognizable. Only Tatum kept it together in the first quarter, while Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick White had undesirable success rates in their shots, which only made up for something in the final expansion of the game, with the result decided. Nothing worked this time in Joe Mazzulla’s script: neither the transitions, nor the help, nor the circulation of the ball, nor the insistence on three-pointers. The referees were also less indulgent with the Celtics’ aggressive defense, which was loaded with fouls.

With this Friday’s defeat, the Celtics’ streak of 10 consecutive victories, a team record, is broken. Additionally, it is the first playoff game this season that they have lost away from home. He had won the previous seven.

The Celtics’ 84 points are the lowest of the entire season. In the regular league, they had scored 91 points in Milwaukee on April 9 in their lowest-scoring game and in the postseason, their lowest mark was 94 points against the Cavaliers on May 9.

In spite of the problems they had, or possibly thinking about reserving themselves for the next game, the Celtics decided not to use Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis, who is a little affected by a new injury. He was probably available but did not take the court. He will likely do it on Monday if he has to.

There are still fans who wear the Mavericks jersey with Nowitzki’s number 41 to games at the American Airlines Center, who were in the front row following the game this Friday. The fans are extremely fond of him, but the number you see everywhere now is Doncic’s 77.

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