Takeaways from Saturday’s NBA playoffs: Mavericks lead in series, Celtics rebound strong

Written by Anthony Slater, Tim Cato, Jay King, Jared Weiss, and Joe Vardon

The Boston Celtics rebounded from an embarrassing Game 2 loss to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers and regain the series lead on Saturday, beating the Cavaliers 106-93 in Cleveland.

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

The Celtics will look to continue their success on the road on Monday.

In the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second game in a row to advance 2-1.

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

For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the only player to score more than 16 points. His 31 points were a game-high, as were his five turnovers.

Dallas outgained 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

The Celtics had the opportunity to close the door on Cleveland after taking a 23-point lead at the start of the third quarter, but the Cavaliers did not move away. They chipped away at the deficit to 9 points early in the fourth quarter. With the Cleveland fans pumped, it could have been a problem for Boston.

After the timeout, Tatum drove for a bucket. Moments later, Brown drove his car in another direction. The Cavaliers kept up the pace for a while but could never get closer than 9 points the rest of the way. The Celtics had all the answers. Brown hit a runner with a single leg. Tatum sank the vanishing jumper. Boston’s offense delivered time after time.

The Celtics left Game 2 disappointed in their defense. They couldn’t believe they showed their playoff intensity while losing. The theme the players brought up at Saturday morning’s shootaround was that no matter what they did offensively, they needed to work harder on the other end of the field. They did it. But they still need to execute at the other end down the stretch. If they keep doing that in big moments, like they did in Game 3, it will be difficult for any opponent to beat them. -Jay King, Celtics beat writer

Tatum is still effective despite his poor shooting

As this series went on, Tatum’s sharp shooting never arrived. It didn’t matter in Game 3. He was the most aggressive this series when attacking the rim, dominated the boards, and was Boston’s best rim protector. Tatum shows that while most stars can’t be stopped from scoring, passing, or whatever they do best, he will do everything else at a high level to make an impact.

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With the Browns lights out again, Boston wasn’t too disappointed. Jrue Holiday bullied his way to the rim to keep the second unit afloat. Derrick White started making shots when they needed them. That was the balance the Celtics struck. Cleveland needs more shooters to break free and make some noise, but Donovan Mitchell is the one carrying the offense. It’s simply not enough for Boston to go all out. β€” Jared Weiss, Celtics beat writer

Cleveland is sick without Jarrett Allen

Dean Wade played his first game in two months, but Allen didn’t join him β€” and he could have a big impact in this series if he’s able to play.

While Wade missed a full two months with a sprained knee and returned to action in Game 3 for 5 points in 16 minutes, Allen has missed six straight playoff games with what the team is calling a rib bruise. If that’s all there is to it, Allen might have set a modern NBA record for games missed with that injury. It has been reported by The athlete and other outlets about how much pain Allen was in β€” his rib was “penetrated” by Orlando Magic’s Franz Wagner β€” but that was two weeks ago.

Allen would have been a big presence in this series because he would make Al Horford more vulnerable. Horford starts with Kristaps Porzinis, who will likely miss the series with a calf injury, and his absence underscores his importance to Boston. The Celtics got wise in Game 3 and kept Horford closer to the paint, which left Isaac Okoro wide open to shoot 3s. That’s what teams trying to beat Cleveland often do: They force Okoro to shoot. It worked; He missed all four threes and shot 1-of-7 from the field.

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With Allen and Evan Mobley on the court together, yes, the Cavaliers will give up some space in which they play well. But in this particular series, it might benefit Cleveland if Boston has to guard Allen and Mobley or risk getting destroyed in the lane, which the Cavaliers proved willing to do in Game 2.

Mitchell is still brilliant, having scored another 33 points in the game. The Cavaliers appear to be chasing the 3-pointer and moving away from what worked so well in Game 2. They were 12 of 36 from 3 and 36 of 84 overall β€” poor shooting numbers that wouldn’t be good enough to beat the Celtics.

The Cavaliers had a bit of success at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter as they also went very small, with Sam Merrill playing with Mitchell, Darius Garland and Caris LeVert. With Horford on the ground, it looked like the pace might be too fast.

The biggest takeaway from Game 3 for the Cavs is that options still exist. Boston hasn’t looked like a team that has it all figured out yet (not leaving Okoro open to shoot in Game 2 was fundamental malpractice). There is time for Cleveland to find the right combinations and exploit them.

It will be easier for Allen to find his way back. β€” Joe Vardon, senior NBA writer

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

Mavericks 105, Thunder 101

series: Dallas leads 2-1

Game 4: Monday in Dallas

Thunder breakout strategy is not working

The Thunder blew a double-digit lead in the third quarter and entered desperation mode midway through the fourth quarter, trailing by a few points and needing to extend the game. So Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault switched to a breakout strategy, intentionally fouling rookie center Derek Lively II four times.

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

But Kidd quickly got back to Lively, and the Thunder missed twice more. Lively made all four, extending Dallas’ lead to five with 3:06 left.

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β€œWe like to do it when there’s a numerical advantage to do it. I give Live credit. He made those last four,” Daigneault said regarding the fouling.

That was enough to keep the Mavericks alive, beating the Thunder to take a 2-1 series lead and perhaps discourage OKC from using the strategy again. Lively finished the night 8 of 12 with two free throws.

The Thunder gave up 15 offensive rebounds, were outscored 52-38 in the paint, and continue to be impressed by their desire to keep Washington, who has combined for 56 points in the Mavericks’ two victories in the series, open. It’s time to regroup for a suddenly struggling Thunder team. β€” Anthony Slater, NBA writer

A full team effort for Dallas gets it done

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

Washington led the team in scoring after his 29-point second game. Irving had periods of brilliance, finishing with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting. When Oklahoma City broke Lively down long in the fourth quarter, he went 1-of-4 on his first two drives and followed them up with four straight drives.

But on the other hand, Doncic rose to the defensive level of his teammates. He hit the ground running time and time again, fighting through his various ailments to participate in every possession. Everyone around him joined in in full force: Oklahoma City went through long stretches without the ability to find positive shots.

Lively was the player who allowed this the most. Although Lively impressed from the moment his rookie season began, he has consistently turned into the Thunder’s toughest defender and has nonetheless held his own in this series.

With the return of the physicality in Game 3 that enabled Dallas to find defensive success over the final months of the regular season, this team can once again craft winning recipes from both sides of the court. β€” Tim Cato, Mavericks beat writer

Sunday schedule:

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

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