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Mac Engel: Dallas Mavericks, Luka Doncic leave zero doubt if they heard what was said about them

Mac Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Basketball

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks’ primary accomplishment on Friday night was to successfully avoid the embarrassment of being swept in an NBA Finals. Mission accomplished.

They did it.

We should expect “The Las Vegas Sands’ Dallas Mavericks win Game 4 of the 2024 NBA Finals” T-shirts available soon.

No team has ever come back to win an NBA Finals down 0-3, and don’t make dinner plans to watch Game 6 of this series back in Texas. We still don’t have much of a series, but we will have a Game 5.

The Mavericks did ABC and the NBA a solid by defeating the Boston Celtics 122-84 at the American Airlines Center. The Celtics lead the series 3-1, and Game 5 is Monday night in Boston.

Watching the Mavericks cut up the Celtics from the opening tip late til in the third quarter, when Boston white flagged the game by sending in a bunch of guys no one has ever heard of, at least gives everyone a reason to ask themselves, “Where have these Mavericks been?”

Whatever was said, or felt, between Games 3 and 4 will likely never see the light of day, or the Internet, but the Mavericks that won the Western Conference finals finally showed up for the NBA Finals. That’s not a coincidence.

Their performance on Friday night was not just about keeping embarrassment at bay. This looked personal.

Any time a coach, player, general manager of your favorite sports team says they don’t watch, read or listen to what is said about them just know they are being as honest as a parent is about the tooth fairy.

The Mavericks, and specifically Luka Doncic, were well aware of their status as a piñata to the national media after their performance in Game 3. They don’t live in a dungeon, and they are human. Really big, rich and famous humans.

Before Game 4, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd took aim at the national members of the media that hammered Doncic to defend his meal-ticket player.

“He’s been great. He is one of the best players in the world,” Kidd said. “As much as he’s been criticized, he’s a helluva player.”

The media folks who crushed Doncic had a point, and the Mavs earned some of this; he whines too much, and for one of the top three players in the world his NBA Finals performance has been forgettable with an F.

“Criticism is always going to come when we lose,” Mavs forward Dante Exum said. “If we won a game or two, the criticism isn’t as bad.”

That’s the problem. They had not won “a game or two,” and the criticism wasn’t bad. It was nasty.

Kidd has a point, too. Some of this kick-Luka stuff has become excessive. Doncic is not the only player on this team who has not been good enough against the Celtics.

To suggest that media nonsense and criticism inspired the Mavericks to their performance in Game 4 is a bit much. To suggest that all of this noise had zero effect is a bit much, too.

Again, these guys are human. Really big, rich and famous humans.

 

“We watch it because we we’re on our phones a lot,” Exum said, in a moment of honesty.

The Mavericks that appeared on Friday night was the team that defeated the Timberwolves, Thunder and Clippers in the playoffs.

The Mavericks that appeared on Friday night was the team that had to be present by no later than Game 2 of these NBA Finals made it to Game 4.

“It was this or we go on vacation,” Kidd said after the game. “I thought the group did a great job of not pressing, and letting the game happen. We have done this in the first three games and we haven’t been able to capitalize.”

He is being generous.

What they did in Game 4 they had done only in narrow spurts of Games 1 through 3. Game 4 of these NBA Finals looked more like a preseason game.

They eliminated the Celtics early in Game 4, and never allowed them to enter the game at any point. The Mavs led 61-35 at the half, and at no point was their double-digit lead threatened.

“We were desperate; we have to continue to keep playing that way,” Kidd said. “The hardest thing in this league is closing the door. When you have a group that has nothing to lose, you saw that tonight.

“That is who we’ve been all season.”

The Mavs two All-Star players, Doncic and Kyrie Irving, were their two best players, and their other guys did something other than blow layups, rotate too late defensively, and look over matched.

Off the bench, Derek Lively scored 11 points with 12 rebounds. Exum scored 11 points.

It was the first time in this series the Mavericks role players, and guys off the bench, did anything other than frustrate their coach and fans.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Doncic said of the end result. “We have to keep going. I have big belief in this team that we can do it.

“It’s going to take energy.”

It will require a lot more than that. It’s going to require almost perfection.

The only thing the Mavs have accomplished thus far in these Finals is to prove they are good enough to avoid being swept.

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©2024 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit star-telegram.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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