Celtics vs. Mavericks score: Boston grabs 3-0 NBA Finals lead after withstanding frantic Mavs comeback attempt

The Boston Celtics are one win away from the 2024 NBA title. The Celtics withstood a frantic Dallas Mavericks comeback attempt in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's Game 3 for a 106-99 win. The Celtics, up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, can become the 10th team to ever sweep their opponent in the NBA Finals if they win Friday's Game 4.

The Celtics got 61 combined points from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Game 3. Boston, now 7-0 on the road in the 2024 playoffs, took control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 35-19. 

The Mavericks, with their season essentially on the line, nearly came all the way back in the fourth quarter. Dallas fell down by 21 points but went on a 22-2 run to cut the lead to one point. Luka Doncic, however, fouled out for the first time in his playoff career and the Mavericks couldn't get over the hump with their superstar on the bench. 

Doncic finished with 27 points, while Kyrie Irving had his best game of these Finals with a game-high 35 points.

No team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit in NBA playoff history in 156 previous attempts. Only four teams in a 3-0 hole have ever forced a Game 7, including the Celtics in last year's Eastern Conference finals.

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

A game of wild swings

With their backs against the wall, the Mavericks came out swinging and almost immediately built a 13-point lead in the first quarter. But by the end of the frame, the Celtics had used a run of their own to slice the deficit down to just one point. 

That's where it would remain heading into the break after an even second quarter. The third, however, was all Celtics. They put their offensive firepower and philosophy on full display with a dominant stretch that saw them shoot 13-of-20 from the field and make five 3-pointers. A few more 3s to start the fourth pushed their advantage to 21 points and suddenly all the talk was about a sweep. 

And then, in the blink of an eye, the Mavericks ripped off a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 11 points, and eventually got it down to one with 3:37 to play. They knocked down a few 3s, the role players started getting involved and their defensive intensity had the Celtics flustered. All told, the Mavericks outscored the Celtics 22-2 over a nearly eight-minute stretch in the fourth. 

But as bad as the Celtics' offense was for much of the fourth quarter, it kicked into gear down the stretch. They had just two empty possessions over the final three minutes and outscored the Mavericks 13-7 the rest of the way. When they really needed baskets to save the game, they were able to get them. 

Doncic fouls out in the fourth quarter

While the Celtics settled down in the final few minutes, a key reason they were able to hold off the Mavericks' comeback attempt is because Luka Doncic fouled out with 4:12 to play. He was trying to take a charge on Jaylen Brown in transition. The Mavericks challenged the call out of desperation, but it was upheld as a block and Doncic was disqualified. 

With Doncic out of the game, the Mavericks had to run everything through Kyrie Irving, and the Celtics were able to key in on him over the final few possessions. Most notably, Irving tried to force a side-step 3-pointer over Al Horford in the final minute with the Mavericks down by four, but the veteran big man knew it was coming and got a strong contest. 

This was not a vintage Doncic game. He finished with 27 points on 27 shots and added six rebounds and six assists. Still, he's one of the best offensive players alive and the Mavericks are a much different team without him. There's no guarantee they would have completed the historic comeback if he had been on the floor, but they certainly would have had a better chance. 

To no surprise, Doncic was not happy with the officiating. 

"We couldn't play physical, so... I don't wanna say nothing, but you know. 6 fouls in the NBA Finals... come on, man," Doncic said after the game. 

Tatum and Brown make history

Jayson Tatum was not at his best in the first two games of the Finals. While he was rebounding and getting his teammates involved, he shot 12-of-38 from the field with nine turnovers. Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, was highly efficient but did not have a breakout scoring performance. 

In Game 3 on Wednesday night, the Celtics' stars flipped a switch and put the team on their back. Tatum did most of his damage in the first half, while Brown picked up the slack in the second half. And after the Mavericks had cut the deficit to one point late in the fourth, those two scored eight of the Celtics' final 13 points the rest of the way. 

All told, Tatum finished with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Brown went for 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Together, they became the first Celtics duo with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in a Finals game. As for Brown, he joined John Havlicek as the only Celtics player with a 30-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist outing in the Finals. 

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FINAL: Celtics 106 -- Mavericks 99

What a wild game. The Mavericks got out to an early 13 point lead and looked like they were going to run away with the game, then the Celtics surged ahead early in the second half and built a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter, only for the Mavericks to cut the deficit down to two in the final minutes. And then, Luka Doncic fouled out of the game, which helped the Celtics hang on for a dramatic win and a 3-0 series lead. 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the way and combined for 61 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, while the Celtics knocked down 17 3-pointers. On the other side, Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 62 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. 

The Celtics will now have a chance to win their first title since 2008 on Friday night. 

June 13, 2024, 3:04 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 11:04 pm EDT
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Doncic fouls out

A stunning turn of events here as Luka Doncic just picked up his sixth foul trying to draw a charge on Jaylen Brown in transition. The Mavericks challenged the call, but it was upheld as a block and Doncic is now out of the game with more than four minutes to play. While the Mavericks have cut the deficit to three points, they'll have to play the rest of the way without their best player. 

June 13, 2024, 2:48 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 10:48 pm EDT
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Here come the Mavericks

And just like that, the Mavericks are right back in the game. The Celtics had opened up a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Mavericks immediately erased 10 of those points to cut the deficit to 11 with 8:23 left to play. There's still plenty of time left in this game for a comeback if they can keep knocking down shots. 

June 13, 2024, 2:32 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 10:32 pm EDT
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Third quarter: Celtics 85 -- Mavericks 70

The Celtics dominated the third quarter, 35-19, to take a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter. They did whatever they wanted on the offensive end by moving the ball and targeting Luka Doncic. On the other end, they turned up the defense and prevented the Mavericks from getting many easy looks. The Mavericks need a big response here to avoid going down 3-0 in the series. 

June 13, 2024, 2:20 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 10:20 pm EDT
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Celtics open up a lead

The Celtics have started the second half in rare form and briefly opened up a double-digit lead of their own, though it's now back down to six. They're 9-of-14 from the field in the third quarter so far and are creating open looks time and again by targeting Luka Doncic. 

June 13, 2024, 2:08 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 10:08 pm EDT
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Halftime: Mavericks 51 -- Celtics 50

The second quarter was low-scoring, competitive and even, and the Mavericks go into the break with a narrow one-point lead. This game has been a battle of the stars, as Kyrie Irving (20), Luka Doncic (17) and Jayson Tatum (20) have combined for 57 of the 101 total points so far. 

Two big questions for the second half: will either team's supporting cast step up? And will either team (both 33%) start making some 3s? The answers will likely determine the outcome. 

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Irving has arrived

Kyrie Irving was straight up bad in the first two games of this series, scoring 28 points on 37 shots. He's nearly matched that total already tonight with 20 points on 8-of-13 from the field. Some of those makes have been ridiculous off-the-bounce 3s, and when those are going in there's not much an opponent can do. This is the Irving the Mavericks have been waiting for. 

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First quarter: Mavericks 31 -- Celtics 30

Well after all that, the Mavericks are only up by one at the end of the first quarter. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving (22 combined points) got them off to a terrific start, and they led by as many as 13 in the opening minutes. But Jayson Tatum (13 points) and the Celtics have answered back. Sam Hauser has hit two 3s off the bench to give the Celtics a nice boost. 

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Mavericks come out on fire

As expected, the Mavericks have come out with all sorts of intensity in what is essentially a must-win game. They've made 11 of their first 18 shots and had an early double-digit lead. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined, they're attacking the paint over and over agan and already have 18 points there. Now the question becomes: can they sustain this level of energy and shotmaking? 

June 13, 2024, 12:58 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 8:58 pm EDT
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Horford starting for Porzingis

Shortly before tip-off, the Celtics announced that Kristaps Porzingis would not play due to his "rare" left foot injury. Al Horford has taken his place in the starting lineup, just as he did when Porzingis was out with a calf injury earlier in the playoffs. While Horford is in, the Celtics will be able to play their five-out style, but what happens when he has to go to the bench?

June 13, 2024, 12:40 AM
Jun. 12, 2024, 8:40 pm EDT
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Celtics vs. Mavericks: Game 3 info

We're about 10 minutes away from tip-off in Dallas. Here's what to know.

Time: 8:30 p.m ET | Date: Wednesday, June 12
Location: American Airlines Center -- Dallas
TV channel: ABC | Streaming: fubo (try for free)
Odds: BOS +130 | DAL -155 | O/U: 213.5

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NBA says goodbye to The Logo

Jerry West died this week at 86. West was a Lakers legend who had a stellar playing career before winning multiple championships as an executive. The NBA will certainly have some kind of West tribute tonight ahead of Game 3, but here's how some of the biggest names in basketball reacted on social media today:

Jerry West dies at 86: LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, more remember Lakers legend
Chris Bengel
Jerry West dies at 86: LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, more remember Lakers legend
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Porzingis ruled out

Once again, the Celtics will be without Kristaps Porzingis in these playoffs. The C's went 9-1 without the Latvian center against the Heat, Cavs and Pacers, but Porzingis returned in Game 1 of the Finals and looked terrific. Then, he picked up a "rare" injury in Game 2. Porzingis went through shootaround earlier in the afternoon, but he was ruled out about 90 minutes ahead of tip-off. Coach Joe Mazzullla said it was the team's decision, not Porzingis'.

Here's more:

Kristaps Porzingis injury update: Celtics big man could play in NBA Finals Game 4 after rare issue, per report
Jasmyn Wimbish
Kristaps Porzingis injury update: Celtics big man could play in NBA Finals Game 4 after rare issue, per report