Mavericks Miss Their Opportunity as Tatum, Celtics Take 2-0 NBA Finals Lead

Mavericks Miss Their Opportunity as Tatum, Celtics Take 2-0 NBA Finals Lead article feature image
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(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Pictured: Jayson Tatum (left) and Jrue Holiday (right).

Boston wasn't particularly good in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, but it was good enough.

The Celtics held on late as the Mavs pushed back with a furious 9-0 comeback. Dallas had a chance to pull within one possession with a minute left, but Derrick White blocked P.J. Washington in transition and Jaylen Brown scored on the other end to put the game away for good.

Dallas had lost five times previously this postseason but came back to win the following game each time. Instead, the Mavs will head back to Dallas down 2-0.

The Celtics now have a nine-game win streak, and teams up 2-0 in the NBA Finals are 31-5 historically (86%), so Dallas is facing a daunting task.

Neither team played particularly well, but this has to feel like a missed opportunity for the Mavericks.

Boston shot 26% on 3s, its second-worst shooting night of the season, and neither Jayson Tatum nor Jaylen Brown had a great game. Brown turned it over six times, and Tatum shot a Kobe-esque 6-of-22.

This game was there for the taking for Dallas, which played with more force and energy early and got a better defensive effort. But you have to win the game you hold Boston to 105 points on terrible shooting — and the Mavs had their opportunities, but their margin for error is just so thin.

Dallas turned it over 15 times, which turned into 21 Boston points. The Mavs also put the Celtics at the line for 20 free throws, only one of which they missed. Dallas missed eight free throws itself in a seven-point loss.

As poorly as Boston shot from beyond the arc, the Celtics hit big shots late. Payton Pritchard hit a buzzer beater from near half court to end the third quarter, and White beat the shot clock late in the game with another — six free points in a game that ended seven apart.

The 3s math remains a huge problem for Dallas.

Boston had a miserable night on 3s at 10-of-39 for 26%, but Dallas was even worse at 6-of-26 for just 23% itself. Luka Dončić had four of those six makes; his Mavs teammates shot a combined 2-of-17 on 3s.

But the most important number in that entire paragraph is 50%. Do you see it?

Boston shot 50% more 3s than Dallas — 39 compared to 26. The Celtics took 15 more 3s in Game 1, too. That's going to be incredibly difficult math for the Mavs to overcome against a superior opponent.

The Mavs still aren't getting their best looks offensively. They got their first lob of the series in the third quarter of Game 2, and they're still barely getting any corner 3s. Credit Joe Mazzulla and a terrific defensive game plan.

Far too much of Dallas' offense right now is just praying for Dončić to do something.

He certainly did, his 32/11/11 gives him the youngest 30-point triple-double in NBA Finals history, as he scored 23 in the first half and added eight second-half assists to get his teammates going. Every Mavs starter finished in double digits.

But Luka can't do everything, and he was questionable to even play in this one with a chest injury. He's also getting worn down defensively, leading to eight turnovers.

Dallas built itself to be a two-star team, but it's been a one-star squad so far in the Finals.

Kyrie Irving had a subdued 16 points on 7-of-18 from the field, inefficient and unimpactful. He's now 0-12 against the Celtics since Boston acquired White, and when that 12 hits 14, the season is over.

White and Holiday have had Irving in their pocket, and Dallas just doesn't have many other answers past its stars.

The Mavs bench has been miserable. Dereck Lively II had another terrible game, looking every bit the part of a rookie, and Maxi Kleber was 0-for-4 in 16 minutes and looks totally unplayable. Jaden Hardy played only two minutes, and Tim Hardaway Jr. didn't play at all. The entire Mavs bench scored nine points in 62 minutes.

Like everything else so far through two games for Dallas: just nowhere near good enough.

The Celtics weren't great in Game 2 either, but they made the plays they needed to and gritted out a win many didn't think they were capable of at this level.

Tatum finished a rebound away from a triple-double and was excellent as a facilitator, racking up 12 assists, but he had another poor shooting night and appears to be forcing it. Brown continues to score more efficiently thanks to all the attention his teammate is getting, but his six turnovers were a problem.

Instead, Boston's guards were the stars of the night.

Jrue Holiday was easily the Game 2 MVP with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and outstanding defense throughout. White added 18 of his own and had two monster 3s in the fourth quarter plus five stocks, one of them game-saving in the final minute. For my money, he's been Boston's Playoff MVP.

Kristaps Porziņģis was terrific again early but picked up a nick late, and that may be Boston's biggest hurdle left.

There was no immediate injury news for Porziņģis, but he limped through a few fourth-quarter possessions and didn't look like himself on the glass or in defense, then exited the game without returning.

Porziņģis has been the X-factor for Boston this series and maybe even its Finals MVP, and it's no coincidence that Dallas made its big final push with Porziņģis out. Daniel Gafford came on late to finish with 13 points and nine rebounds, and he has a much better chance of finding minutes if Porziņģis is limited or out.

Boston just isn't as dynamic on either end without Porziņģis. He had two more huge blocks in defense, and he continues to be a big factor offensively, stretching out the defense and stepping into easy jumpers over smaller defenders when Boston's offense bogs down.

Porziņģis has come off the bench both Finals games, but Boston is perilously thin without him. The rest of the Celtics bench scored only five points in Game 2, and Al Horford can only play so many minutes.

A Porziņģis absence would likely thrust Luke Kornet or Xavier Tillman into those Porziņģis minutes. That may not swing the series, but it could certainly buy Dallas a game or two.

Stay tuned for any Porziņģis injury news.

For now, the Mavericks' backs are against the wall, heading home down 2-0.

Historically, this has been a great spot for bettors to back the trailing home team — at least for a half.

Since 2006, teams down 0-2 in the series are 91-47-1 ATS in just the first half (66%), and that record gets a little better as each round of the playoffs progresses. Desperate teams playing with the season on the line and a home crowd boost continue to be an excellent formula.

Teams coming home for Game 3 off a road loss by more than five are also 110-64-6 ATS in just the first half (63%), and that increases to 19-6 in the Conference Finals or later (76%). That's another trend in the Mavs' favor, and it's agnostic of any Game 1 result.

History says bettors should back Mavs -0.5 in the first half for Game 3, and that bet will look all the better if Porziņģis ends up limited or out.

But Dallas needs much more than a first-half win. The Mavs need to win the second half too, and Dallas needs answers in a hurry before this season gets away from them.

As for Boston? It's starting to feel like the only major question left this season is which Celtics player will take home Finals MVP.

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