How the Celtics Held Off the Mavericks to Take a 2–0 NBA Finals Lead

Jrue Holiday stepped up. Jayson Tatum found a way to help on an off-shooting night. And Luka Doncic was once again the only player Dallas could rely on offensively.
Holiday (4) led Boston with 26 points in Game 2.
Holiday (4) led Boston with 26 points in Game 2. / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – News, notes and observations from Boston’s 105–98 Game 2 win

As NBA Finals games go, this one wasn’t pretty

The Celtics shot 45.2%. The Mavericks committed 15 turnovers. Neither team could make a three-point shot. Boston and Dallas are both capable of playing high level basketball. On Sunday, neither did.

The Celtics, though, played a little bit better. Jrue Holiday (26 points, 11 rebounds) was outstanding. Holiday has been a defensive menace this series, hounding Kyrie Irving (more on him below) all over the floor. In Game 2, Holiday flashed his offensive talent. He was 11-of-14 from the floor, with just two makes coming from beyond the three-point line. He attacked the basket with the ball and moved into empty spaces around the rim without it.

“I’m a utility guy,” said Holiday. “I’ll do whatever. I’m here to win.”

Said Jaylen Brown, “I credit the victory to him tonight. He played well.”

Holiday’s performance flexed the Celtics depth. With Jayson Tatum (6-of-22) struggling, Holiday filled the scoring void. He scored 11 of his 26 in the second quarter, pushing Boston to a three-point halftime lead. He was 3-of-3 in the third. He yanked down two rebounds in the final minute to help Boston preserve a seven-point win.

Even with Tatum struggling with his shot, Holiday was quick to note that the attention Tatum and Brown attract makes the game easier. Several of Holiday’s buckets came off Tatum and Brown assists.

“I feel like they brought me here to win, and I’ll do my best to do that,” said Holiday. “But at the end of the day, this is their team. I know it’s probably just as much my team as theirs, but the pressure that they have on themselves to execute and to be great is a little bit different than my pressure. I’ve always been honest about that and how they always handle themselves has been something that's been so honorable. So it’s just, it’s slightly different. They’re superstars and I’m here to support.”

Tatum makes a (positive) impact

As noted, for the second game in a row the shots just weren’t falling for Tatum. But for the second game in a row, the All-NBA forward found a way to make an impact. In Game 1, it was his rebounding. In Game 2, it was playmaking. Tatum finished with 12 assists, coming up one rebound shy of a triple-double. It was Tatum’s 13th double-double of the playoffs. Boston’s record in those games: 13-0.

“The way their defense is set up and how much they’re loading up and converging at the rim, it just puts us in positions to attack and find the easy kickout reads,” said Tatum. “Just to keep the ball popping and things like that so we can get good to great shots on each and every possession.”

Holiday, Tatum discovered, was open for a lot of them.

“Every time I’d take a couple dribbles, there was, like, three people were right there,” Tatum said. “So we got a bunch of shooters on our team and guys that can space the floor. They kept leaving Jrue open. So it wasn’t like I had to do anything spectacular. It was just about finding the open guy.”

Defensively, Dallas spent much of the game attacking Tatum, putting his man in screens with Irving and Luka Doncic in an effort to get Tatum one-on-one. Overall, Tatum held up. Doncic had a triple-double (32 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) but committed eight turnovers. Irving was 7-for-18 from the floor and missed all three of his threes.

“Jayson makes greatness look easy,” said Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla. “He does it in a lot of different ways. He does it on defense, he does it on rebounding, he does it on passing, he does it on screening. He’s a tremendous player and not hard to coach. When he has the ability to affect the game in different ways, we’re a different team.”

Jun 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts; Mavericks’ Luka Doncic dribbles past Celtics’ Payton Pritchard in Game 2 of NBA Final.
Doncic (77) needs more from his teammates if Dallas wants to get back into the series. / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Doncic needs help

Doncic took responsibility for the Mavs’ loss. “I think my turnovers and my missed free throws cost us the game,” Doncic said. Still, he’s not getting much help. Dallas made six three-pointers in Game 2. Doncic had four of them. P.J. Washington (1-for-5), Derrick Jones Jr. (0-for-3) and Josh Green (0-for-3) missed several wide open looks.

“Ky and Luka are going to get their looks,” said Kidd. “We have got to get someone else involved of being able to knock down some shots.”

Irving, though, needs to do more. He’s 0-for-8 from three-point range in this series. He has struggled with the physical defense of Holiday, Brown and Derrick White. He was 5-for-10 in the first half. That’s good. He was 2-for-8 in the second. That’s not. The Celtics are pushing Irving to his left and he’s going there. As important as it is for Dallas to get its role players going, a breakout game from Irving means a lot more.

“I would take the brunt of the responsibility,” said Irving. “The first two games weren't the best for me, especially [with Doncic] scoring 25-plus points, getting rebounds, getting assists, doing the intangibles, and for me I've always felt responsible for getting other guys comfortable out there, too.”

Let the Kristaps Porzingis watch begin

The good news for Boston: Porzingis’s right calf is fine. His left one? Well … Midway through the fourth quarter Porzingis appeared to land awkwardly when defending a P.J. Washington putback. After limping back to the Celtics huddle, he waved off team trainers and stayed in the game. When he came out he briefly dipped into a back hallway. When he returned, he could be seen stretching out his left calf on the Celtics bench.

Porzingis downplayed the injury. “I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Porzingis said. And Mazzulla said he had “zero” concerns about Porzingis’s health. But Porzingis was clearly laboring in the minutes he played after the injury and didn’t return for the final five. Porzingis has been brilliant since returning to the lineup on Thursday. He followed up a 20-point performance in Game 1 with a 12-point, four-rebound, two-block effort in Game 2. Any limitations moving forward could have a big impact on this series.

Will homecourt change this series?

The good news for the Mavericks is they are headed home. The bad news is the Celtics have yet to lose on the road in these playoffs. If there is a moral victory for Dallas it’s that they were a P.J. Washington muffed dunk with 50 seconds left from making it a one possession game. The Mavs know what they will get from Doncic. They have to hope that a change of scenery will make a difference for everyone else.


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Chris Mannix

CHRIS MANNIX

Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix has boxed with Juan Manuel Marquez, played guard in the NBA's D-League and even tried his hand at bull riding at the Sankey Rodeo School in Martin, Tenn. The latter assignment left him with a bunch of bruises and a fractured collarbone. "I liked all the first-person experiences, but fighting Juan was my favorite assignment for SI," says Mannix. "It was a tremendous experience that required brutal training and introduced me to a fear I never knew I had." Mannix has covered the NBA since he arrived at SI in 2003. He currently writes columns and profiles in the magazine and for SI.com and also serves as SI's NBA draft expert. Among the NBA stars he has profiled: Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Andrei Kirilenko. As a teenager Mannix was a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics for eight seasons (1995-2003) and covered high school sports for the Boston Globe. "Working for the Celtics was like attending a different fantasy camp every game. I spent pregames D'ing up the likes of Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and yes, Michael Jordan. Last time I went one-on-one with MJ he beat me 48-0. I got one shot off … and it was blocked." Boxing is also one of Mannix's specialties. He has reported for SI on several championship fights, annually hands out SI.com's boxing awards and writes the website's "Inside Boxing" column. Mannix won the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America's awards for Best Feature over 1,750 words and Best Feature under 1,750 words. In addition to his duties at SI, Mannix serves as host of The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio (Sundays 6–9 p.m. ET) and is a co-host of Voices of the Game, with Newy Scruggs every Wednesday from Noon–3 p.m. ET. In addition, Mannix is a ringside reporter for Epix and Fight Night on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and is a regular guest and fill-in host on The Dan Patrick Show and The Crossover on NBC Sports Network. He also regularly appears on sports radio shows across the country, including weekly appearances in Miami, Orlando and Salt Lake City.  Mannix received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College in 2003 and graduated from Boston College High School in 1998 (which makes him a double Eagle). He resides in New York City.