Luka Doncic spun and spun and spun, eventually leaning back and pouring in a fadeaway two over Sam Hauser’s head. The second-year forward watched shot after shot rise up toward the rafters and down through the rim during a torturous Thanksgiving Eve for Boston’s switching defenders. But they knew they’d need to live giving up some of them.
“Know what you need to live with and know what you need to take away,” Joe Mazzulla said pre-game. “He can get it in a lot of different ways.”
Two proved better than one for the Celtics, who received 68 points, 17 rebound and nine assists from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as the league’s most powerful offense built a 27-point lead and answered each Dallas run on the way to a 125-112 win. Doncic scored 42 points with eight rebounds and nine assists on 17-for-28 shooting, but only Christian Wood stepped up in support of the Slovenian star.
Tatum, after Dallas pulled within nine points late, sent him packing at the rim with a powerful stuff and shouted toward him and the Celtics bench.
Derrick White, Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Tatum took turns on Doncic in the opening minutes as Joe Mazzulla returned to his original starting lineup after an eight-game stretch where Grant Williams started and injuries plagued the back court. Doncic overpowered White early with a tough fadeaway and three from the left wing. He tossed in an early leaner over Horford and his pull-up over Smart just rimmed out. A 15-point quarter from the MVP candidate, bent, but didn’t break Boston as Doncic’s teammates shot 3-for-9.
Brown took command of the ball in transition and scored seven points in less than two minutes to push the Celtics ahead, 26-14, on a left-handed layup running back his steal on Dorian Finney-Smith. Al Horford found him on the previous two scores finishing downhill on Dwight Powell, who Brown knocked out of the game with three early fouls.
Doncic resumed his attack for a fadeaway and leaner over Sam Hauser, but Malcolm Brogdon paced the Celtics’ double-digit lead with a pair of pull-up threes. Grant Williams and him grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds on the final possession of the quarter, Brogdon watching the clock with five seconds left from mid-range, passing up the shot, driving into the post and finding Brown cutting from the top of the post for a layup and 13 points as Tatum watched from the scorer’s table.
The Celtics led, 34-23, entering the second quarter and Tatum took over with a three and sidearm pass to White for his third make from deep. He attacked the rim repeatedly to draw 11 free throw attempts in the first half, hitting nine. Tatum dropped off a pass for a White layup, chased down a transition miss by Brown for a put back, then closed the frame with eight points in 59 seconds to reach 23 through two quarters. Jason Kidd’s challenge attempt to erase a Javale McGee foul trying to prevent a one-handed jam over the center fell short, as did Doncic’s 22-point effort as the Mavericks fell behind by 21 entering the half.
Doncic, Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie traded threes with Smart to keep pace early in the third while the Celtics reached 14-of-24 shooting from deep. Then, Boston cooled down to 1-of-4 for the rest of the quarter and opened a door alongside some sloppy turnovers. Doncic recovered his own free throw miss and got Christian Wood a pair of his own, then hit him cutting past Brogdon for a slam and created a three for Josh Green. He also hit 15 of his own 22 attempts from the field, bumping White and spinning into a one-handed hook shot and torturing Hauser on the low block.
White lost the ball trying to cross half court against Tim Hardaway Jr.’s pressure and Brogdon committed an offensive foul screening late in the third. They tried to pressure Doncic, sending Grant and White flying at him just past half court, but the dazzling passer shook both off, set himself and fired a pass to Wood toward the basket that gave the Mavs a chance entering the fourth down 101-85.
Doncic hit a floater and Wood buried a three to open the fourth, but Tatum answered with a pull-up two and Grant attacked a closeout to finish inside. Wood, who tried posting Celtics guards repeatedly, succeeded at first, then failed with Brogdon fronting him, running back on defense stunned as Tatum jammed a layup through his contest to the right of the rim. Boston held on, ahead by 15, until Doncic scored five straight to reach 42 points and pull Dallas within 109-99.
Brown answered with five straight points, including a transition finish over Wood, but Dinwiddie and Doncic kept spraying passes at the big man to keep Dallas within 10 points. Smart led Tatum downhill, who kicked to his left to Horford for a three after the Mavs cut the score to 114-105. Then, Tatum threw down a dunk and stuffed Doncic at the rim as Brown ran in transition for the decisive three from Smart, who served nine assists in the win.
Doncic and his teammates, moments later, walked toward their own bench down 124-108. They’ll face their top competition for most powerful offensive in the league against the Sacramento Kings on Friday at 8:00 EST.