Uninspiring Performance Delays Celtics' Championship that Remains Inevitable

Jun 14, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots over Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and guard Derrick White (9) during the first quarter of game four of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 14, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) shoots over Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and guard Derrick White (9) during the first quarter of game four of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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Game 4 was supposed to be a coronation. Instead, it represents the worst performance of the Celtics' dominant playoff run.

Isolation basketball, a lack of paint touches and ball movement, and the failure to create multiple advantages on most possessions led to an ice-cold offense that undermined Boston's defense.

The visitors manufactured just 14 points in the second quarter, their lowest output for any period this season. They entered intermission trailing 61-35.

After seeing the Mavericks extend their advantage to 88-52 in a third frame that resembled the first two, Joe Mazzulla waved the white flag, emptying his bench with 3:18 left in the quarter.

But while the Celtics won't end this postseason on an 11-game win streak and by sweeping the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals, Banner 18 still feels inevitable.

Boston boasts six of the top eight players in this series, subtracting Kristaps Porzingis from the equation wouldn't make a significant enough difference, and they've convincingly out-coached and out-executed Dallas in the championship round.

Like when the Celtics lost to the Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals, their experience has proven a significant edge against an opponent that mostly doesn't have it, especially in the moments when it's paramount to stay poised.

So, while Friday's loss and the uncompetitive nature of the defeat were shocking, the plus side is that it will likely lead to a championship celebration at TD Garden on Monday.

But first, a deep dive into what stood out as Game 4 of the NBA Finals unfolded.

1. Kyrie Irving voiced, "It's all about a pride thing now," while at the podium on Thursday. That is exactly how the Mavericks played to open Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Dallas produced 22 points in the paint in the opening frame; Dereck Lively II knocked down a three from the right corner, his first make from beyond the arc this postseason, and the hosts generated six second-chance points.

2. While Luka Doncic put 13 points on the board and Kyrie Irving chipped in nine, the Celtics shot below 40% from the field, went 2/9 (22.2%) from three-point range, and trailed 34-21 after the first 12 minutes.

An aggressive Jayson Tatum paced Boston with 11 points on 4/7 shooting. The five-time All-Star repeatedly attacked the rim, muscling his way to the basket. He also capitalized on the Mavericks sagging off Al Horford, who screened him open for a three.

Sam Hauser diving on the floor, fighting to force a jump ball, and earning a Tommy Point also kept the score from becoming more lopsided. His effort led to Derrick White burying a three to beat the shot clock.

3. While Kristaps Porzingis is available for Game 4, Joe Mazzulla also said, "We're only gonna use him in very specific instances if necessary."

Xavier Tillman Sr., who stepped up when called upon on Wednesday, including converting on a three from the right corner and blocking Doncic twice, was the center Mazzulla went with when it was time to spell Al Horford.

4. Building off the momentum from the first frame, the hosts broke the game open in the second.

Contributing to that cause was the Celtics lacking pace, paint touches, and ball movement. It resulted in their offense going ice-cold. The visitors started the quarter 1/8 from the field, including 1/5 from behind the arc.

5. Boston's defense then suffered for its offensive struggles. While the former only scored 14 points in the period, their lowest output in any frame this season, regular or post, Dallas produced 12 in the paint. They also got 12 points from a second unit that had previously been dormant in this series.

And while the Celtics shot an appalling 3/16 (18.8%), including 3/10 from three-point range, Doncic tacked on 12 more points, giving him 25 at halftime, leading the Mavericks to a 61-35 advantage at intermission against an opponent playing uninspired.

6. Any halftime hope of a Boston comeback evaporated in the third quarter as Daniel Glafford slammed home a long-range lob from Doncic, Lively threw down back-to-back dunks, and Dallas manufactured 16 points in the paint by the 3:18 mark in the period.

7. With the Mavericks leading 88-52 at that point, Joe Mazzulla moved on to Game 5, accepting defeat and emptying his bench to play out the string.

8. Game 5 will tip off on Monday night at 8:30 EST at TD Garden. Perhaps the Celtics will capture Banner 18 on their home floor.

Further Reading

Dependable Xavier Tillman Discusses Learning to 'Be a Star in Your Own Role'

Celtics Detail Keys to Perhaps Their Best Quarter This Postseason

Celtics Weather Late Storm to Move Within One Win of Banner 18

Sports Doctor Details Challenges, Risks of Kristaps Porzingis Playing in NBA Finals

Celtics React to Injury That May Sideline Kristaps Porzingis for NBA Finals

Jrue Holiday's 'Championship DNA' Rubbing Off on Celtics

Stifling Defense Moves Celtics Halfway to Banner 18

Jayson Tatum's Joy Outweighing Pressure of NBA Finals Return

Inside the Moment that Propelled Celtics to NBA Finals Game 1 Win

Celtics Set the Tone for the NBA Finals with Game 1 Haymaker

Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.