Saturday’s NBA playoff takeaways: Mavericks take series edge, Celtics bounce back

By Anthony Slater, Tim Cato, Jay King, Jared Weiss and Joe Wharton

The Boston Celtics bounced back from an embarrassing Game 2 loss to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the series 106-93 on Saturday.

The Cavs mounted a spirited fourth-quarter comeback attempt after trailing by double digits for most of the game, but Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown β€” combined for 61 points and 22 rebounds β€” responded to preserve the victory.

The Celtics will continue their road winning streak on Monday.

In the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second straight game to take the series 2-1.

Mavs forward PJ Washington continued his dominant play, scoring 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting with five 3-pointers in the 105-101 victory. Star guards Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic each scored 22 points, with Irving dishing out seven assists and Doncic grabbing 15 rebounds.

For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the only player with more than 16 points; His 31 were the most in a game, but so were his five turnovers.

Dallas held off Oklahoma City thanks to 15 offensive boards.

Celtics 106, Cavaliers 93

Series: Boston leads 2-1

Game 4: Monday in Cleveland

Boston’s defensive intensity is back

After taking a 23-point lead early in the third quarter, the Celtics had a chance to shut the door on Cleveland, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t go away. They chipped away at the deficit until pulling within 9 points early in the fourth quarter. With the Cleveland crowd going wild, that would have been problematic for Boston.

As time expired, Tatum drove for a bucket. Minutes later, Brown drove to another location. The Cavaliers held the momentum for a while, but couldn’t get closer than 9 points the rest of the way. The Celtics stretched each answer. Brown hit a runner. Tatum sank a fadeaway jumper. Boston’s offense delivered late.

The Celtics left Game 2 disappointed in their defense. They don’t believe they showed playoff intensity during the loss. The theme for the players in Saturday morning’s shootaround was that no matter what they do offensively, they have to work extra hard on the other end of the court. And they did it. But they still had to stretch at the other end. If they do that in the big moments, like they did in Game 3, any opponent will be tough to beat. – Jay King, Celtics beat writer

Despite his poor shooting, Tatum is still effective

As the series went on, Tatum’s sharp shooting didn’t come. It didn’t matter in Game 3. He was very aggressive when attacking the rim this series, dominated the boards, and was Boston’s best rim protector. Tatum shows that most stars can’t stop scoring or passing, or even if they’re good at it, he’ll do it all at a high level to make an impact.

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Once again Brown went out shooting lights out and Boston didn’t hold back much. To keep the second unit afloat, Jrue Holiday went to his rim and threatened. Derrick White started hitting the shots they needed. It was balanced by the Celtics. Cleveland needs more shooters and noise, but Donovan Mitchell carries the offense. It’s not enough when Boston is rolling on all cylinders. β€” Jared Weiss wins over Celtics writers

Cleveland was sick without Jared Allen

Dean Wade played his first game in two months, but Allen didn’t join him – and could have a huge impact on the series if he can.

Whereas Wade missed two months with a sprained knee and returned for 5 points in 16 minutes in Game 3, Allen has missed six straight playoff games. Reported by Athletic And other publications about how much pain Allen is in β€” his rib was “punched” by the Orlando Magic’s Franz Wagner two weeks ago.

Allen could have a bigger presence in this series because he will make Al Horford more vulnerable. Horford starts with Kristaps PorziΕ†Δ£is, who could be out of the series with a calf injury, and his absence underscores his value to Boston. The Celtics were smart in Game 3 and kept Horford close to the paint, which left Isaac Okoro open to shoot 3s. That’s what teams trying to beat the Cavs often do: They force Okoro to shoot. It worked; He missed all four 3s and shot 1 of 7 from the field.

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With Allen and Evan Mobley together on the court, yes, the Cavs will give up some gaps where they play well. But in this particular series, Boston could be helped by Cleveland having to protect Allen and Mobley or risk getting wiped out on the road, which the Cavs were willing to do in Game 2.

Mitchell is still red-hot, coming off another 33-point game. The Cavs chased the 3-pointer and pulled away from something that worked so well in Game 2. They were 12 of 36 and 36 of 84 overall β€” poor shooting numbers that won’t be enough to beat the Celtics.

With Sam Merrill playing alongside Mitchell, Darius Garland and Carys LeVert, the Cavs had very small gains early in the third and fourth quarters. With Horford on the floor, it looked like the pace would be very quick.

The biggest takeaway from Game 3 for the Cavs is that the options are there. Boston doesn’t seem like a team that has it all figured out yet (not leaving Okoro open to shoot in Game 2 was a fundamental foul). Cleveland has time to find the right combinations and use them.

It would be easier if Alan could find his way back. β€” Joe Varden, veteran NBA writer

Luka Doncic celebrates during the Mavericks Game 3 win on Saturday. (Tim Heidman/Getty Images)

Mavericks 105, Thunder 101

Series: Dallas leads 2-1

Game 4: Monday in Dallas

Thunder’s hack strategy doesn’t work

The Thunder led by double digits in the third quarter and went into desperation mode midway through the fourth, trailing by a few points and having to extend the game. So Oklahoma City coach Marc Daignault went hack, intentionally fouling rookie center Derek Lively II four times.

It helped in the beginning. Lively, a 50 percent free-throw shooter, didn’t attempt one in the first two games of the series, going 1 of 4 after the first two fouls. The Thunder backed off, and Mavericks coach Jason Kidd pulled him temporarily.

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But Kidd soon returned to Lively, and the Thunder fouled out twice more. Lively made all four, pushing Dallas’ lead to five with 3:06 left.

“We like to do it when we have the numbers advantage to do it. I give Lively credit; he made that last four,” Tagneault said of the fouling.

The Mavericks did enough to survive, defeating the Thunder 2-1 in the series and encouraging OKC to use the strategy again. Lively finished the game 8 of 12 on free throws.

The Thunder gave up 15 offensive rebounds, were outscored 52-38 in the paint and continued to be fueled by their willingness to open up Washington, which has scored 56 combined points in the two Mavericks wins in this series. It’s time to regroup for a suddenly floundering Thunder team. β€” Anthony Slater, NBA writer

A whole team effort for Dallas makes it happen

Dallas wouldn’t have won Game 3 without its entire roster. This is a team built around Doncic who dominates the opposition’s attention and the league’s attention every game. But with Doncic suffering a knee injury, the Mavericks had to take their star, and they did.

Washington led the team in scoring following his 29-point Game 2 streak. Irving finished with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting.

At the other end, Doncic stepped up to the defense of his teammates. He fought through his various ailments and hit the ground repeatedly to take part in every possession. The entire force of everyone around him joined him: Oklahoma City went through many stretches without the ability to find positive sights.

Lively is the player who has allowed it the most. Although Lively impressed from the moment his rookie season began, he continued to become one of the Thunder’s toughest defenders and was consistent throughout the series.

With the physicality returning to Game 3 that powered Dallas’ defensive success in the final months of the regular season, this team can once again create winning recipes on both ends of the court. β€” Tim Cato, Mavericks beat writer

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(Top photo of Jayson Tatum and Evan Mobley: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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