PHOENIX SUNS

Jayson Tatum scores 31 points as the Boston Celtics are on the brink of a championship

Jun 12, 2024, 9:59 PM | Updated: 10:08 pm

Jayson Tatum scores 31 points as the Boston Celtics beat the Dallas Mavericks 106-99 to take a 3-0 ...

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum reacts after scoring a basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

(AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

DALLAS (AP) — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shared a long hug after helping Boston avoid the biggest collapse in an NBA Finals game since at least 1997.

The reward? The Celtics stars are on the brink of joining the litany of big-name predecessors to put a banner above the parquet floor back home.

Tatum scored 31 points, Brown had 30 and the Celtics held off a furious Dallas rally to reach the brink of a record 18th championship with a 106-99 victory over the Mavericks on Wednesday night for a 3-0 lead.

Brown finished with eight rebounds and eight assists as the Celtics extended their franchise record with a 10th consecutive playoff victory and moved to 7-0 on the road this postseason. They can win the series and break a tie with the Lakers for most NBA championships with a victory Friday in Dallas.

And Boston can forget about nearly blowing a 21-point lead with 11 minutes to go.

“Not really trying to look too much into it,” Tatum said. “The game of basketball is about runs. It’s never going to go like you expected. If you want to be a champion, you have to be resilient in those situations, and we did that tonight.”

Boston also improved to 10-1 in these playoffs without Kristaps Porzingis after the 7-foot-2 Latvian was ruled out about two hours before the game because of a rare tendon injury in his lower left leg sustained in Game 2.

The status of Porzingis for the rest of the series appears in doubt, but it might not matter. None of the previous 156 teams to face a 3-0 deficit has rallied to win an NBA playoff series.

The Mavs almost pulled off a crazy comeback to avoid the big hole — 13 years after Dallas had the biggest fourth-quarter rally in the play-by-play era of the NBA Finals (since 1997) when a 15-point comeback in Game 2 started their run to the franchise’s only title against Miami.

Boston led 91-70 at the end of a 20-5 run early in the fourth quarter before Dallas answered with a 22-2 spurt to get within a point with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.

Problem was, Luka Doncic picked up his sixth foul with 4:12 remaining when a challenge was unsuccessful before Kyrie Irving, who scored 35 points, hit a jumper to get Dallas within one.

Tatum and Brown saved the Celtics from there, with some help from Derrick White, who scored 16. Those three combined for the remaining 13 Boston points to get the Celtics within a victory of their first title since 2008, and just the second since 1986.

The last time the Mavs trailed 3-0 was nine years ago, when they lost to Houston in five games in the first round.

“We just got to make history,” rookie center Dereck Lively II said. “We got to go out there and we just got to play like our lives on the line.”

In a game that seemed over early in the fourth, the score was stuck on 93-90 for more than three minutes. That included when Doncic was called for a blocking foul on a driving Brown.

The Mavs had nothing to lose with the challenge, since it meant trying to save their superstar from disqualification.

Without Doncic, Dallas managed to get within two before Brown hit a pullup jumper with a minute to go. P.J. Washington Jr., Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. each missed a 3-pointer in the final minute as Irving’s personal losing streak against his former team reached 13 games.

“We had a good chance,” Doncic said. “We were close. Just didn’t get it. I wish I was out there.”

An energized Dallas crowd was ready for its first finals game in 13 years, with Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Mavs fan Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs frequently getting out of his seat near midcourt.

The Mavs used the needed boost coming off two losses in Boston, taking their biggest lead of the series while running out to a 22-9 lead. Doncic and Irving drove for buckets while also hitting a 3 apiece.

The Celtics answered with a 21-9 finish to the first quarter. Sam Hauser hit two of his first-half 3s — on three attempts — to help wrap up a run that started with four points from Brown and a 3 from Tatum.

Defense dominated the start of the second quarter, Boston holding a 5-2 edge nearly six minutes in before Irving and Tatum traded 3s to start a scoring burst.

“They came out swinging,” Tatum said. “That was to be expected. They were at home, the crowd was behind them. We expected their first punch.”

Once they withstood it, it appeared the Celtics would coast after outscoring the Mavs 35-19 in the third quarter, before the Mavs’ late rally.

After it was over, pockets of Celtics screamed with delight in a mostly empty arena, seemingly starting the celebration of the inevitable.

To everyone but the Celtics.

“You’ve got to understand we are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable than they are,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “When you understand that you’re vulnerable and your back’s against the wall, you’ve got to fight. And so that’s the mindset that we have to have.”

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Jayson Tatum scores 31 points as the Boston Celtics are on the brink of a championship