National Basketball Association
Celtics are one game away from clinching. Who should win Finals MVP?
National Basketball Association

Celtics are one game away from clinching. Who should win Finals MVP?

Updated Jun. 13, 2024 3:11 a.m. ET

The only question left for the Boston Celtics appears to be who their 2024 NBA Finals' MVP will be.

It also may be the toughest one to answer. If anything has defined this particular Celtics' squad in this year's playoffs, it has been the spectrum of star-like performances. They are the NBA version of whack-a-mole: if one or two of their mainstays disappears on a given night, they can count on one or two others to pop up and make their presence felt.

That formula can make for some turbulent stretches while they figure out exactly who is going to answer the bell, and Wednesday night was no exception. What appeared to be a foregone conclusion nearly became an epic fourth-quarter collapse. But thanks to a collective closing effort, the Celtics hung on for a 106-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks that now gives them a commanding 3-0 best-of-seven series lead. They will have a chance to clinch the franchise's 18th championship on Friday, breaking their tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for most all-time titles.

They won Game 3 without their super sub in the first two games, Kristaps Porzingis, who was ruled out with a torn medial retinaculum — check your medical dictionary for further information — in his left leg, an injury suffered late in Boston's Game 2 win. Coach Joe Mazzulla gave Xavier Tillman his playing time in the series and Tillman responded with four rebounds and three points in 11 minutes, but Mazzulla put most of the load on his starting five, playing four of them — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White — 40-plus minutes. 


The Mavericks finished the game shorthanded as well, star forward Luka Doncic fouling out with 4:12 left to play and Boston clinging to a 93-90 lead. Doncic was called for a blocking foul on a fastbreak drive by Jaylen Brown. Mavs coach Jason Kidd challenged the call, but after replay review, it was upheld. It completed a frustrating night for Doncic, who needed 27 shots to score 27 points. Four of his six fouls came in the fourth quarter, the last two only 26 seconds apart.

Boston appeared to be on its way to a blowout, Brown and White hitting back-to-back 3s to stake a 21-point lead with 11:06 left. Dallas answered with a 20-2 run that made it a one-possession game with still more than six minutes to play. A pull-up jumper by Irving after Doncic fouled out cut the difference to one, 93-92.

Brown, White and Tatum stepped up from there to lead a 13-7 closing run while Holiday harassed Irving enough to limit him to one desperate three-point attempt and a scoreless final two minutes.

Tatum finished with a 31 points and Brown had 30, but in every other way it was a balanced performance that has put the Celtics on the brink of a sweep. Six players contributed between four and eight rebounds. Four players had between four and eight assists. 

And there are at least three players — Tatum, Brown and Holiday — who could make a case for MVP. It may just be all that is left to decide in these finals.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, "Rebound," on NBA forward Brian Grant's battle with young onset Parkinson's, and "Yao: A Life In Two Worlds." He also has a daily podcast, "On The Ball with Ric Bucher." Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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