Mavericks ‘fighting uphill,’ in NBA Finals against unlikely odds to come back from 0-2

Dallas at least proved in Game 2 it could go toe-to-toe with the Celtics, offering some hope for when the series shifts to AAC for Game 3 on Wednesday.

BOSTON — Gradually, but inexorably, the Mavericks lost what meager grip they mustered Sunday night against the mighty Celtics. Fingernail by fingernail.

Despite 32 points from a visibly injured Luka Doncic, the Mavericks’ fall was coming. And though they didn’t tumble far, losing Game 2 of the NBA Finals by a respectable 105-98 score in TD Garden, the reality is they’re in an 0-2 series hole from which few Finals teams have recovered.

Five teams, to be exact, in 36 attempts, a not-at-all-reassuring 13.9% win rate. Probably few if any of those five victors played a team the caliber of Boston, which won 64 regular-season games and is 14-2 in the playoffs.


“Our guys are fighting extremely hard, fighting uphill,” said Mavericks coach Jason Kidd. “Hopefully going home will help.”


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The Mavericks were within 103-98, but their last hope was snuffed when Boston’s Derrick White blocked P.J. Washington’s dunk attempt with 50 seconds left. Kidd said he thought Washington was fouled.

If you’re looking for silver linings, unlike their 18-point Game 1 loss here, at least Dallas proved it could go toe-to-toe with Boston, which offers hope for when the series shifts to American Airlines Center for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday.


The climb of which Kidd spoke is steep. Dallas faces the daunting task of winning four of the five remaining scheduled games against what now inarguably is the NBA’s best team.

“Make shots, don’t miss free throws, make fewer turnovers,” Doncic said when asked how the Mavericks can turn the series around.


To Doncic’s point, Dallas shot 16 of 24 from the free-throw line to Boston’s 19-of-20 and got outscored in 21-12 in points off turnovers. Those are significant differences in a seven-point game. Perhaps big enough differences to give the Mavericks a ray of hope.

“We’re just got to play to the physicality,” said Mavericks center Daniel Gafford, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. “At the end of the day, they are pushing us around. We’ve got to be able to do the same thing. That’s what the message was when we came out the second half: Set the tone physically.”

Doncic was listed as questionable with a chest contusion and during stretches of Game 2 he clearly was laboring. He said the injury occurred either when taking a charge or diving for a loose ball in Game 1.

“We don’t really know; I just felt it the next day,” he said, adding that he received treatment for most two days between Games 1 and 2. “I was really surprised.”

If Doncic doesn’t get more offensive help than he’s received the first two games, the Mavericks have little hope of extending the series, whether or not Doncic is 100%.

Kyrie Irving scored eight first-quarter points and Doncic had 13 as Dallas took a 28-25 lead, in Irving’s case providing hope that he’d broken out of the TD Garden doldrums that saw him score only 12 Game 1 points.

Irving, though, scored only eight points the rest of Game 2, shooting 7-of-18. That means he’s shot 13-of-37 for the series and is now 0-12 against Boston since his 2021 departure, including 0-7 in TD Garden.


“A lot of shots were hitting the back rim,” Irving said. “That could [tick] you off as a competitor, but it’s all part of the game of basketball.

“You have to accept the ups and downs of this. That’s, I would say, the toughest challenge when you’re in a series. You want to play extremely well, especially when you’re playing in a Finals.”

Kidd tried multiple players off the bench — Josh Green, Dante Exum, Jalen Hardy — hoping someone would provide an offensive spark. No one did. Dallas scored nine bench points.

Conversely, while the Celtics only used eight players and got little bench production other than from Kristaps Porzingis (12 points), a shot by Payton Pritchard from 34 feet at the third-quarter buzzer gave them an 83-74 lead. It was Pritchard’s first and only field goal of the series.


During Saturday’s media availability, Kidd raised eyebrows by matter-of-factly referring to Jaylen Brown as Boston’s “best player,” adding of his 22-point Game 1 performance: “He did everything and that’s what your best player does.”

Reporters — and several Celtics players — wondered if Kidd was playing a mind game, trying to pit Brown against Boston’s widely regarded top player: Jayson Tatum.

If that was Kidd’s objective, perhaps it worked. Tatum missed seven of his first eight shots in Game 2 and finished 6-of-22 for 18 points.

The fact that Boston nevertheless won doesn’t bode well for Dallas.


“Every game we lose is a missed opportunity for us,” Doncic said.

Irving noted that he’s been part of a Finals comeback, an historic one, at that, when in 2016 his Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to beat Golden State in seven games.

“I have a little experience in this; didn’t play particularly well in the first two games in that series, too,” he said. “So now I’m just really leaning in on what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned and some of the lessons I’ve been able to make sense of in how to come back in this series.

“Because it is going to be a possession-by-possession thing, and it is going to be the hardest thing that we’ve ever done.


“So I think we’ve got a great feel, a great experience here in Boston of what the Finals is like for our group. Now we go home and shake off the cobwebs a bit and prepare for another fight.”

More coverage from Mavericks-Celtics Game 2

Overwhelmed Mavericks can’t afford to let Luka Doncic battle as one-man band in NBA Finals

Five thoughts: Mavericks in dire situation as Celtics take 2-0 NBA Finals lead


Was Mavs’ P.J. Washington fouled on pivotal fourth-quarter play in Game 2 of NBA Finals?

Mavericks ‘fighting uphill,’ in NBA Finals against unlikely odds to come back from 0-2

National reaction to Mavs-Celtics Game 2: Dallas digs themselves an 0-2 series hole

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