Tuesday, July 23, 2024

2024 NBA Finals: How the Mavericks can build upon Game 4 success to try and stage historic comeback

The Dallas Mavericks laid a historic beatdown on the Boston Celtics in Game 4, and while Boston shouldn’t be too concerned about the 38-point loss, it did give the Mavericks some hope. However you look at that shocking Game 4 result, credit has to be given to Dallas for turning in an all-time performance to avoid a sweep. Now, the series shifts back to Boston, where the Celtics are favored to win Game 5 and hoist the franchise’s 18th championship. But there’s reason to believe — even if it’s just a sliver of hope — that the Mavericks can extend this series further and try to stage a dramatic comeback.

Derrick White succinctly described what Dallas did to Boston in Game 4 as “an ass-kicking.” And given the context, one would expect the team fighting for its season to pull out all the stops. But no one could’ve predicted that the wheels would fall off quite this spectacularly for the Celtics, who were likely already thinking about hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy Friday night. 

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla credited the Mavericks’ aggressive defense for forcing Boston into an area of indecisiveness, which resulted in poor shot selection and turnovers. Still, it’s just one of the reasons the Mavericks found so much success, and something the team can lean into as they try to force a comeback.

As the Mavericks try to keep their season alive for another game, here are three things they can gleam from Game 4 to use as they try to stave off elimination. 

1. Dereck Lively II everywhere, all at once

Just three minutes after checking into Game 4 in the first quarter, Lively knocked down the first 3-pointer of his career, on just his third attempt ever. It was just the beginning of what ended up being one of Lively’s most impactful performances of this postseason. And that’s saying a lot, because in each of the previous three rounds Lively was an essential cog in Dallas’ offensive and defensive engine. 

But through the first three games in this series against the Celtics, his strengths had been neutralized. Without many lob attempts, his rim protection didn’t prove to be a difference maker as Boston rained 3s and shot ridiculously well at the rim, and his aggressiveness in crashing the offensive glass was more like a footnote and not an important touchstone in Dallas’ effort.

But Game 4 came on like a tsunami, where Lively finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive glass. On his first two buckets, he took advantage of Boston pretty much ignoring him on offense with Jayson Tatum guarding him. 

Boston will obviously live with Lively taking 3s, but the fact that he knocked one down shows that he’s capable of shooting from there. His second attempt, a lob from Kyrie Irving in transition, is something sustainable that the Mavericks can take advantage of in those situations. 

The Mavericks need to find any edge they can get against the Celtics, and with Boston not having a ton of size, especially with Kristaps Porzingis still injured, they need to put more pressure on Tatum guarding Lively.

With Boston lacking size, Lively became more aggressive in rebounding on the offensive glass, taking advantage of guys like Tatum and Derrick White trying to box him out. He also showed growth in defending in space against the five-out Celtics offense, something he struggled with through the first three games, which is why Boston got whatever it wanted at the rim or from 3-point range. Despite still coming off the bench, Lively played 22 minutes to Daniel Gafford’s 10 minutes of action, showing that head coach Jason Kidd is leaning on the rookie more and more to be their de facto center in important moments. 

Lively’s aggressive play is certainly sustainable for Game 5, and while he may not knock down another unlikely 3-pointer, if Porzingis isn’t playing, he’ll have free reign to get the Mavericks second-chance opportunities and make Boston pay for ignoring him on offense.

2. Luka Doncic’s renewed commitment

Doncic was held to the fire for his uncaring defensive effort through the first three games of the Finals. The criticism reigned the loudest after Dallas’ loss in Game 3, so extra attention was paid to how he would respond in a win-or-go-home situation. He certainly heard the criticism, and what we saw was a committed Doncic on defense, who came away with three steals. He was moving his feet, not letting guys blow past him with ease and was keeping his head down. Previously, he was giving Boston several 5-on-4 situations by jawing with the referees.

As much as Doncic does on offense, he still needs to put in effort on defense, and when he does, Dallas plays significantly better on that end of the floor, especially when he’s holding himself accountable. It shouldn’t have taken for him to be shamed into playing defense, and the Mavericks in a 3-0 hole, before he began to move his feet and not leave his teammates out to dry, but it’s better late then never. Doncic isn’t going to be a lockdown defender, but just by simply putting in the effort, he’s already putting the Mavericks in a better position to at least give themselves a chance to win and keep extending this series.

3. Defensive-minded rotation

One noticeable change we saw from Kidd in Game 3 was more minutes for Maxi Kleber, Dante Exum and Josh Green, and less for Jaden Hardy. Kleber had by far his best performance of the playoffs, and finished the game a plus-25 in the box score. He made an impact on defense and knocked down a huge momentum boosting 3-pointer at the end of the first half. 

The same can be said of Exum, who knocked down two triples, and gave the Mavericks a bigger, more versatile guard to have on the floor than Hardy. When Exum is on the floor, the Mavericks play with a bit of a quicker pace, and while his offense isn’t always reliable, when he can contribute on that end of the floor, it becomes a no brainer to have him out there because of his defense. He and Kleber do so much of the little things that help make the Mavericks a cohesive unit on defense. And really, above all else, they’re just more reliable defenders than trotting out Hardy and Tim Hardaway Jr

We’ll have to see if this gameplan sticks heading into Game 5, but it felt as though Kidd found what worked in Game 4 from a rotation standpoint. If Kleber and Exum can provide a boost offensively, then their minutes are equally valuable for all of the positive stuff they do on defense. If they can’t be impactful on offense, then Kidd will likely go back to Hardy, and maybe even Hardaway after that barn burner he put on in garbage time.

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.