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The Celtics’ formula is lots of 3s, lots of stops. The Mavericks need a solution in the NBA Finals

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BOSTON (AP) — When the Boston Celtics make a ton of 3-pointers, forget it. They’re probably not going to lose.

That was surely something the Dallas Mavericks understood before Game 1 of the NBA Finals — and if they, or anyone else, somehow were unaware of that fact, it was on full display in the opener.

The Celtics made 16 3s, outscoring the Mavericks by 27 points from long range, in their 107-89 victory Thursday night. Both teams have an off day Friday and are scheduled to resume practice Saturday. Game 2 is Sunday night in Boston.

“We’ve got to be better,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Nerves or not being in this situation, we can’t use that as an excuse. It’s just basketball, and we’ve got to be better at the game of basketball on Sunday.”

And it’ll start with doing a better job on 3s — either making more, giving up fewer, or both. Consider these trends for the Celtics this season:

— When making 16 or more 3s, Boston is 51-6. When making 15 or under, the Celtics are 26-14. That’s still a very good mark, but at least opponents have a realistic chance of winning when that happens.

— When the Celtics make more 3s than their opponent, they’re 61-5. When they don’t, they’re 16-15, basically a coin-flip to see who wins.

— When the Celtics make at least four more 3s than their opponent, they’re 49-3.

— When factoring in both the regular season and the playoffs, not only has Boston made more 3s than anyone else (1,572 so far this season, 24 away from matching the league’s total-season mark the Celtics set last year), but the Celtics also have a better percentage this season than any other club. They’re at .3852 for the season now, a whisker ahead of Oklahoma City’s .3851.

“I think they are the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, so sometimes (it’s) really hard to take those away,” Mavericks guard Luka Doncic said. “Especially when they have five guys out and they can all shoot. Obviously, we’ve got to make more.”

And it was a team effort for the Celtics in Game 1. That has to be what makes it doubly scary for Dallas — because just about everyone in Boston’s rotation was part of the prowess from deep.

Jayson Tatum and Derrick White each made three 3s, while five other Celtics each made two. It was only the seventh time in NBA playoff history that seven teammates made at least two 3s in a game; it was the second such instance for Boston in this year’s playoffs, and the first time it ever happened in an NBA Finals.

“They are going to make some 3s at times, but we want to make them tough,” Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving said. “When they are at home, they shoot incredibly well.”

Boston led by 29 in the first half, then Dallas got the margin down to eight in the third quarter. It looked manageable — that is, until the Celtics started making 3s again. Tatum hit a 3, pushing the lead to 16. Al Horford hit another, and the lead was 19. Jaylen Brown hit another; lead up to 22.

Crisis averted. Collapse warning lifted. The game wasn’t in doubt again.

“When they cut it to eight, that’s when the game started,” Brown said. “I liked how our team responded. We stayed composed. Offensively, we got to our spacing and was able to push that lead back out and make some plays on offense.”

Made some plays on defense, too. A lot of them, actually. That was a theme all night for Boston; Dallas didn’t reach 25 points in any quarter of Game 1.

Dallas had five assists through three quarters — the fewest by any team in the first 36 minutes of any game in the last three seasons. The Mavericks aren’t exactly a high-assist team; they had the 19th-most in the regular season, but five through 36 minutes is almost impossible considering Doncic and Irving are on the team.

But that’s how good Boston’s defense was. It took away fast-break points (Dallas finished with only six), and one of the reasons why the final margin wasn’t even larger is because the Mavericks managed 16 second-chance points.

Translation: Nothing came easily for Dallas.

“Everyone was really locked in on the defensive end,” Horford said. “The things that we needed to do, we just wanted to be very solid throughout.”

The Mavericks finished Game 1 with nine assists, five fewer than their lowest in any other game this season. Doncic has 27 games so far this season alone where he’s had a triple-double of points, rebounds and assists — but Dallas’ entire team didn’t manage such a triple-double in Game 1.

“Just great individual defense,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Everybody has to take on the challenge of guarding those guys. They’re an amazing team and they put a ton of pressure on you with their ability to score. Everyone is going to take their matchup personal, have personal pride in individual defense.”

It has been Boston’s formula all season — 3s on one end, stops on the other. And in Game 1, it worked like a charm.



AP Basketball Writer