Analysis: The chance was there for Dallas in Game 2, but Mavs now face even tougher road vs. Boston

Game 2 provided Dallas with a huge chance

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Game 2 provided Dallas with a huge chance.

The Mavericks could have flown back to Dallas with the home-court advantage in the NBA Finals. They could have tied the title series at a game apiece. They could have put the heavily favored Boston Celtics into what would have been their most precarious spot of the season.

Instead, they’re down 2-0 — and now the odds of pulling this off just got a whole lot longer.

They missed eight free throws, gave up 21 points off turnovers, didn't take advantage of an uncharacteristic 3-point clankfest from the Celtics – 10 for 39 — plus wasted another big effort from Luka Doncic on a night where he battled through ankle, rib and knee issues and still did whatever he wanted. They were better than they were in Game 1. That said, they still weren't good enough. Final score: Boston 105, Dallas 98, and the Celtics are now two wins away from what would be their record-setting 18th NBA championship.

“At the end of the day, they are better than all the teams we’ve played,” Dallas' PJ Washington said. “It’s the finals, and we’ve just got to be better. ... Their record says that they have been the best team all year. They have two superstars, they have a lot of great role players and they play team ball. So, we’ve just got to be better.”

Or else.

The only path for Dallas to capture this title now is to win four of the next five games, against a team that hasn’t come close to losing four games in a five-game stretch at any point this season. The Celtics are 14-2 in these playoffs, 78-20 overall this season and the only way that their fingerprints aren’t on the Larry O’Brien Trophy before long is for them to come completely apart.

Which isn’t likely. Possible, sure. Likely, no.

“The journey to this point has been great, but we still know being up 2-0 means nothing,” said Celtics guard Jrue Holiday, who led Boston with 26 points in Game 2. “Job’s not done. We have to do whatever it takes.”

Doncic had the 50th known triple-double in NBA Finals history — 32 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists. He also had eight turnovers and went just 4 for 8 from the foul line, two reasons why he pointed the finger of blame directly at himself after the game.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make some more shots,” Doncic said. “I think my turnovers and my missed free throws cost us the game. So, I’ve got to do way better in those two categories. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to make shots to win the game.”

Dallas tied a season-low with six 3-pointers, but that wasn't what the Mavs should lament most when they review how the game went from beyond the arc. They were 11-1 in these playoffs when holding teams below 38% on 3s; make it 11-2 now, since Boston shot 25.6% in Game 2 and won. The Celtics aren't likely to struggle that much from deep too often.

“Every game we lose, it’s a missed opportunity for us,” Doncic said.

Dallas was right there, which will make the loss hurt even more. It still took a pair of unlikely plays by the Celtics — a 34-foot, beat-the-clock 3-pointer by Payton Pritchard to end the third quarter, and a chasedown block by Derrick White in the final minute of the fourth on a play where it seemed like Washington got fouled on a dunk try — for Boston to wrap Game 2 up.

“That's what Payton Pritchard does," White said of the deep heave.

In the biggest moments, Boston found a way. That all said, it's not over. Comebacks from 2-0 down in the NBA Finals aren’t unprecedented.

The last team to lead the finals 2-0 was Phoenix in 2021; the Suns didn’t win another game in that series against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Milwaukee. Golden State led Cleveland 2-0 in 2016; Cleveland won in seven, something that Kyrie Irving will surely remind his Dallas teammates of now since he hit the 3-pointer that basically sealed that title for LeBron James and the Cavs. And nobody needs to tell Dallas that 2-0 leads guarantee nothing; the Mavericks had that lead against Dwyane Wade and Miami in 2006, the city was planning parade routes, and the Heat won the next four games for their first championship.

“We are not down,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We’re positive. This is a group that believes. We didn’t get an opportunity to get a split or win two here on the road. Now Boston held serve. Now we’ve got to go home and hold serve.”

To his credit, he made it all sound very simple. But he knows the task is much harder now.

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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

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