How do the Mavs win Game 3? Just keep shooting, says Dončić

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DALLAS — Luka Dončić’s message is simple for the struggling 3-point shooters around him, and with Dallas trailing Boston 2-0 while coming home for the NBA Finals.

“Just one thing: Keep shooting,” the Mavericks superstar said. “We all believe in those shots. That’s how we came to the Finals. That’s how we played the whole season. We believe in those guys.”

Dallas faces several daunting numbers going into Game 3 on Wednesday night.

The Celtics are on a nine-game playoff winning streak, a franchise record in pursuit of an NBA-best 18th banner. Just five of the previous 36 teams to face this deficit (14%) have come back to win the title.

One number has to change for the Mavs to rally. Players not named Doncic are 5 of 32 from beyond the arc, with co-star Kyrie Irving misfiring on all eight attempts.

When it comes to 3s, the supporting cast is just about as important as Irving. P.J. Washington Jr., a catalyst for the deep playoff run with his deep ball and defense, is 1 of 8. Derrick Jones Jr. is 1 of 5.

Doncic, who is 8 of 21 from deep, is the only Dallas player with more than one bucket from 3. His role-playing partners have to figure out how to produce without forcing things.

“I think it’s just taking good shots, taking open ones,” said Washington, who shot 47% from 3 in a second-round victory over top-seeded Oklahoma City but is at 23% since then. “Obviously, we haven’t been making shots. We feel pretty good coming home. It’s all about just making open ones, taking open ones.”

Let’s not forget the the defense of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday, among others. Boston had the second-best defensive rating in the regular season and has the size and tenacity on the perimeter to make Doncic and Irving uncomfortable.

While Dončić just had the first playoff triple-double in Dallas history with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 105-98 loss in Game 2, the five-time All-Star has 12 turnovers in the series. Irving is shooting 35% with significantly more shots (37) than points (28).

Brown has guarded both, often picking up Dončić at half-court and occasionally poking the ball loose for easy buckets the other way.

“He’s been one of the emotional leaders on the team,” Irving said of his former teammate. “Defensively, he’s making it difficult. For the past few years, he’s tried to make his mark on that end. When you take pride in what you do on the defensive end, it’s going to show.”

Dallas has been outscored 39-25 in points off turnovers against a team that struggled with those miscues in a six-game loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals two years ago.

“I sound like I’m repeating myself,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “But if we can take care of the ball and not give them live-ball turnovers where they are not just laying up the ball or dunking, it puts us in a better seat. We’ve got to take care of the ball. That’s the next step in the series.”

Those Celtics had a 2-1 series lead in 2022 before losing three in a row to the Warriors. Part of where they are now started with where they ended up against Stephen Curry and company.

“It’s almost like you got to trick your mind almost in a sense,” Brown said. “You almost got to play like you’re down 0-2 rather than up. That’s hard to do.”

Everything about the Finals is new for Dončić, including the 2-0 deficit. Not for Irving, who is in his fourth title series and won his championship with LeBron James in Cleveland in 2016 when the Cavaliers erased a 2-0 deficit against the Warriors.

Or for Kidd, the point guard when Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas to its only championship 11 years ago. Those Mavs won three in a row to close out Miami in six games.

“A lot of it is just a learning curve for myself, for my teammates, and also a peace of mind that we give each other that we want to give ourselves a chance by leaving it all out there on the floor,” Irving said. “That’s literally been the focus since Game 2 ended.”

In this series, Dončić added a chest contusion to the sprained right knee and sore left ankle the 25-year-old has been dealing with most of the playoffs.

The Celtics are facing uncertainty again with Kristaps Porzingis, the 7-foot-2 Latvian who missed 10 consecutive playoff games with a right calf strain before sparking the 107-89 Game 1 win with a dominant first quarter.

Porzingis has what the team called a rare tendon injury in his lower left leg, which was sustained in Game 2. He hasn’t been ruled out in Boston’s pursuit of a commanding series lead.

“Same old, same old,” Brown said. “(Porzingis) has been tremendous for our group, not just in the playoffs, but all season long. It’s obvious him on the floor just helps elevate us to a different level. But … we prepare for these moments to be able to play with or without anyone.”