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

Until Dallas gets its superstar some help, stats like Doncic’s Game 2 triple-double will be seen as Finals footnotes.

BOSTON — With 3.3 seconds left in the third quarter of Game 2, Kyrie Irving got to the foul line. For the first time in the NBA Finals. Which means he shot a free throw in this series before he made a 3-point shot (still waiting).

The Mavericks, overwhelmed to find themselves playing the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals in Game 1, found themselves in something else entirely Sunday night — a winnable game. Even with a minute to play, Dallas trailed by just five after losing the opener here by 18 points. But with the Celtics holding on for a 105-98 victory Sunday, the Mavs find themselves down 2-0 because Luka Doncic has been reduced to a one-man band.


Although Doncic has played after being listed as questionable any number of times, he clearly labored early after taking off a heavy wrap around his chest that he wore throughout warmups. Never a ballerina, Doncic was especially stiff on defense and in getting up and down the court early, and yet he finished with a slightly heroic triple-double — 32 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals while making two-thirds of his shots in terms of efficiency. Doncic was 12-for-21 but made four 3s, which is the same as shooting 14-for-21 from two-point range. Luka had 23 of his points before halftime, and there’s not much doubt he was running out of gas when he scored three of his 32 in the final quarter.


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Irving, meanwhile, ran his personal string of consecutive losses to Boston to 12 while scoring 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting. He is 0-for-8 from the three-point line, the first time in these playoffs he has gone consecutive games without helping the Dallas cause from the arc. P.J. Washington was actually Dallas’ second leading scorer with 17 points, but there was only Luka to keep this team afloat early in the contest. When the score was 35-29 Dallas with 10 minutes to play in the first half, Luka had 20 points.

The Celtics have stated their case rather emphatically as to how they are going to defend Luka, and coach Jason Kidd once more has an extra day off before the teams play Wednesday to figure out a new plan of attack. Although Doncic was much more successful distributing the ball (11 assists compared to one in Game 1), Boston is going to let Doncic shoot all the two-point shots he wants and continue to limit his ability to get the ball to open 3-point shooters or throw lob passes to dunking centers, which Dallas feasted on for three rounds in the Western Conference playoffs.


Despite Doncic producing some of his typically gaudy numbers, it’s not as if the Celtics defense didn’t trouble him at all. He committed eight turnovers and (this is not breaking news) grew increasingly frustrated with officials as those turnovers did not produce foul calls.

There is something to be said for playing a competitive game. But Dallas can’t wait any longer to turn improvement into victory or this Finals will be over by next weekend. Perhaps the presence of a friendly crowd will inspire greater results from Irving, who leaves here having gone 13-for-37 (35.1 percent) from the field. The Mavericks can’t compete with Boston with those numbers.

The Celtics were led by Jrue Holiday’s 26 points and once again survived despite a really rough shooting night from Jayson Tatum (18 points, 6-of-22 from the field). Jaylen Brown had 21 and provided a lot of the better defense that Doncic saw in the second half. Brown said on Thursday night, “Every game has its own story,’’ and this was at least a much more watchable tale for Mavericks fans even if the ending needs some work.


“I think my [eight] turnovers and my missed free throws (3-for-7) cost us the game,’’ Doncic said. “So I’ve got to do way better in those two categories. Every game we lose, it’s a missed opportunity. I thought we played a lot better defense, defended threes. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to make shots to win the game.’’

Irving missed 24 of them in two nights at TD Garden, and he can’t do that while averaging 14 points a game. Kidd has to find the combination of players that is ready for the Finals spotlight. Maxi Kleber scored zero points and committed four fouls in 16 minutes. Dante Exum got most of Jaden Hardy’s minutes and didn’t have anything to speak of to show for it.

Daniel Gafford was a factor inside but rookie Dereck Lively II hasn’t been able to get anything going on the road in this series. Dallas has lots of options, but Kidd needs to find an answer to the cry for help that Luka’s game is calling for.

The Celtics are the better team as 64 regular season wins and a 14-2 playoff record more than suggest. But Dallas had a bit of an opening here Sunday night with Tatum‘s poor shooting and Kristaps Porzingis not being near the factor he was in Game 1. But keeping the game close and the Garden crowd on edge doesn’t keep this series from being anything other than 2-0 in Boston’s favor.

X/Twitter: @TimCowlishaw

More coverage from Mavericks-Celtics Game 2...

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


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