‘Not done yet’: Celtics eye 18th title as Mavs vow to regroup

‘Not done yet’: Celtics eye 18th title as Mavs vow to regroup

DALLAS -- The Boston Celtics have history within their grasp going into Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday.With a win, not only would the Celtics sweep the Dallas Mavericks, they would break a tie

DALLAS — The Boston Celtics have history within their grasp going into Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday.

With a win, not only would the Celtics sweep the Dallas Mavericks, they would break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most NBA championships of all time with 18.

It seems to be a matter of when, not if, Boston closes out the series. The Celtics have been dominant in the playoffs, and that continued with a 106-99 victory in Game 3 to take a 3-0 Finals lead on Wednesday night.

NBA teams have gone 156-0 when taking a 3-0 lead in any best-of-seven series, and there’s no reason to think that streak is in jeopardy with Boston riding a 10-game winning streak and a perfect 7-0 road record this postseason.

But the Celtics aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“Nobody is celebrating or anything,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said Thursday. “We still feel like there’s a lot more that we can do. There’s a lot more that we want to do.”

Added veteran Al Horford: “We’re not allowing ourselves to think ahead. We’re just trying to lock in on what we have to do. The job is not done yet.”

Boston has proven to be the deeper, more talented team throughout the Finals. When Tatum struggled on the offensive end in the first two games in Boston, Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday stepped up. Tatum then delivered his best scoring performance in Game 3 with 31 points.

The Celtics were without center Kristaps Porzingis (left leg) in Game 3 and managed to fill the void just fine. Porzingis remains day-to-day.

“Kristaps has gotten better from yesterday to today,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said Thursday. “He’s fighting like hell to play. But it’s going to be up to us to protect him and to make sure that it’s in the best interest for him as a player and as a person.”

The Celtics’ defense, meanwhile, continues to play at a high level, holding the Mavs to fewer than 100 points in each of the first three games.

This is a Mavs team that topped the 100-point mark in all five of their games against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals. But Boston is a different animal with the versatility and various looks it can deploy.

Even when the Mavs had 62 combined points from stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in Game 3, the other nine players who saw minutes combined for just 37 points. The Mavs haven’t been able to put it all together yet, largely because of the Celtics’ defense.

Irving said the Celtics’ defense is “very special to watch from afar.”

“But also as a competitor, as a hooper, to be experiencing it at this level, it’s an incredible teacher for me,” Irving said. “I use it as a moment to learn how hard it is to win, especially against a great team that’s going to guard you the way that they’re guarding us.”

Doncic has shown his brilliance on the offensive end at times but has also struggled on defense. Doncic and Mavs coach Jason Kidd both answered questions about all-time greats enduring similar playoff struggles early in their careers, such as Michael Jordan against Detroit and LeBron James against the Spurs.

“You’ve got to go through lows first to go on top,” Doncic said. “I think that’s great experience.”

Added Kidd: “For great players, you have to fail to understand how to be successful at the highest stage. This is the highest level, being in the Finals.”

Despite the long odds, Doncic isn’t ready to give in yet. He felt the Mavs showed something in how they responded to a 21-point deficit early in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and rallying to make it a one-point game. Though the comeback fell short, the Mavs didn’t go down without a fight.

“We’ve just got to believe,” Doncic said. “We talk about it in the locker room. I know we can do it, and we’re going to believe until the end.”