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Celtics Prove Their Clutch Dominance in Game 3 of NBA Finals

Any questions surrounding the Boston Celtics’ ability to seal the deal should be eradicated.

For a team often mislabeled as one that crumbles in the clutch, Boston poetically put a stamp on Wednesday’s win by proving the opposite.

In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, they put those clutch demons to rest in the fourth quarter and walked the Mavericks to the brink of elimination.

After imposing their will and taking a 21-point lead with 11:07 left in the game, the Celtics got a bit too comfortable. They started settling for contested jumpers and dribbling into traffic, which led to live-ball turnovers and a stagnant offense. They scored just two points in eight minutes, bringing back all of the memories from last year’s droughts and meltdowns in the East Finals.

Dallas stormed back with a 22-2 run, trimming the deficit to one with roughly three and a half minutes remaining.

It was up to Boston to piece together one last surge. Given how devastating and, frankly, embarrassing it would’ve been to choke away Game 3, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that fourth quarter could’ve swung the Finals.

But as the Celtics have done multiple times with this particular group, they passed the test. They cleared the hurdle and left no room for debate. When the pressure intensified, they rose to the occasion, all but putting a bow on this championship pursuit.

With the help of Luka Doncic fouling out, Boston closed the fourth quarter by scoring 13 points in the final 3:37, translating to a 130 offensive rating. That would be outrageous for any stretch, but it’s even more impressive in a road Finals game. The Celtics’ ability to maintain such high efficiency under pressure underscores their growth and resilience.

As Jaylen Brown mentioned before the series shifted to Dallas, the Celtics’ identity over the last two months has been their resilience — particularly when opponents punch them in the mouth with a big run.

“That’s the key, that’s the majority of what the battle is,” Brown said. “Just managing your emotions, how you handle adversity, your will, and your perseverance. Everything isn’t going to go according to plan … effort makes up the difference.”

Brown snatched the Mavericks’ spirit late in Game 3 with contested mid-rangers to keep Boston afloat.

However, the real backbreaker was Jrue Holiday catching the ball in the left corner with 2:54 left and doing what he does best: Reading the game and making a high-IQ play.

The Celtics were trying to expose Tim Hardaway Jr.’s defense any time he was on the floor. With Hardaway Jr. opening his stance for a baseline drive, Holiday took the route and trusted he could draw help at the rim.

When the low man rotated over, Holiday slung a left-handed dime to Derrick White at the top of the arc. Because the Mavs’ defense had already collapsed, White caught the ball wide open and finished the biggest play of the night. Notice how elite the ball placement was on Holiday’s pass — directly in the shooting pocket.

“I don’t know how they let us get (Holiday),” Tatum said to the NBATV crew after the win. “But I’m so happy we got Jrue on our team and we’re just very fortunate. He just makes winning plays.”

This clutch performance elevated the Celtics’ playoff record to 6-0 in games decided in crunch-time (margin within five points with five or fewer minutes left). They are now +26 in their 24 clutch minutes during the playoffs, a massive difference from their -2 scoring margin in 40 clutch minutes last year.

A year ago, Boston wouldn’t have survived last night’s near-collapse. They would have lost confidence and been too rattled to finish the job.

If you listen to Brown, though, those are the comparisons that need to stop.

These aren’t the same Celtics. Their talent level is dramatically higher with the new rotation. Their composure is now at a championship level. The addition of key players like Jrue Holiday has significantly bolstered their roster, providing the depth and experience needed to navigate high-pressure situations.

“Experience is the best teacher,” Brown said. “All year long, we’ve been hearing about the Celtics of the past. You know? For the last six to eight months, that’s all we’ve been hearing. All the different shortcomings we’ve had. But this is a new team. We’ve learned from those experiences. In these moments, you can see … we didn’t run from it. We stepped up to the plate and found a way to win.”

Their road destruction also continues to build. Boston has joined rare company with a 7-0 road start during their playoff run. Only the 2001 Lakers, 2017 Warriors, and 2017 Cavaliers started the playoffs with seven straight road victories. Two of those teams unquestionably belong on the Mount Rushmore of NBA groups and single-season runs. The other, Cleveland, would have won the championship in any other year if they didn’t face Golden State.

Winners of 10 straight playoff games, Boston is now on a collision course with history. It’s the longest playoff winning streak in the franchise’s 78-year existence. They are one of nine teams in NBA history to win 10 consecutive playoff games in a single season.

If they close out the Mavericks on Friday, Boston will become the only team ever to sweep the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

At a certain point, the facts and statistical models cannot be ignored. Everything is adding up to this Celtics team being a juggernaut and carving their name in the record books.

Whether it’s in Game 4 or later in the series, this is now a formality. Teams to take a 3-0 lead in any seven-game series, regardless of round, have a 100% success rate in closing it out. So far, 155 have tried to recover and 155 have failed.

The Celtics’ defense in this series is proving to be one of the most cohesive units we’ve ever seen — tied together every step of the way. Joe Mazzulla’s game plan from the start was to switch as much as possible against Doncic and Irving, keeping his guys out of compromising positions and refraining from sending doubles.

By virtually eliminating the role players from this series, Boston has placed immense pressure on Doncic and Irving to create tough looks in isolation.

Staying out of rotation and not having their defense collapsed has given the Celtics a massive advantage in the shot profile department. They’ve held the Mavericks to just 14 corner three-point attempts in three games. For reference, Dallas averaged 11.6 per game in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

By either switching the pick-and-roll sets or playing it two-on-two in traditional drop coverage, the Celtics have largely kept the ball in front. That means there’s hardly any need for weakside help, so Boston’s wings can stay glued to outside shooters while Doncic and Irving are exhausting their energy in one-on-one situations.

On the other side of the court, Tatum and Brown know Dallas has far too many weak defenders at the point of attack. Almost every possession is a direct blow-by, forcing the weakside help and overreaction they are staying away from.

That’s the biggest reason Boston has generated 30 more corner three-point attempts than Dallas and why they’re shooting 82% at the rim against the Mavs. They have taken everything Dallas wants to do, rejected it, and turned the tables. As a result, we have a lopsided Finals that will likely end on Friday.

Like his running mate, Tatum doesn’t want to hear about what they did — or failed to do — in the past. As young as they both are, why aren’t they allowed to have bumps in the road before maturing as a team and becoming champions?

The Finals loss in 2022 still hurts, to be sure. But they weren’t favored to win that series. Not against those Warriors.

Boston just had to ensure that heartbreak never happened again.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes,” Tatum said. “We’ve learned from a team at the time (Golden State), that was better than us, that had been there and gotten over the hump. They were mentally tougher at the time. We’ve grown from that. We really have. And it was on display tonight.”

Soon enough, every ounce of criticism will now fall on deaf ears. This title is theirs and they will have earned it every step of the way. The dominant, clutch performances will quickly erase everything from the past — and the window will be wide open for a mini-dynasty.


The information presented in this article is based on the available data and current events around the time of publication, to the best of our staff’s research and knowledge. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice, financial advice, sports betting advice, or life advice. It is simply our best guess, something to add to your research. We at Las Vegas Top Picks do our best to get stories accurate, but sometimes mistakes and biases happen, and it is always good to double-check other sources and media outlets to confirm stories and factual details. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the overall opinion of Las Vegas Top Picks.

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