Boston Celtics on the brink of an 18th NBA title

Staff WritersAP
Jayson Tatum (centre) has helped put the Celtics in the driving seat for an 18th NBA championship. (EPA PHOTO)
Camera IconJayson Tatum (centre) has helped put the Celtics in the driving seat for an 18th NBA championship. (EPA PHOTO) Credit: AAP

It's over. That's what the numbers say.

There will be a record-setting 18th championship for the Boston Celtics to celebrate soon, maybe very soon: they have a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals, a lead that has never been wasted in any series, ever.

But the Celtics are taking nothing for granted.

On perhaps the next-to-last day of the NBA's 78th season, Boston - who could finish off the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 on Friday night - were desperately trying to keep things as close to business as usual.

"We're the most vulnerable in this," said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who, at 35, could be the youngest coach to win a title since Bill Russell as a player-coach for Boston in 1969.

"We have to remain with a sense of urgency. We have to have an understanding of our environment.

"We have to know that we're just as vulnerable as anybody else in this situation, and how we handle that will determine our fate."

Mazzulla's point: Don't let up.

A team that has gone 79-20 in its first 99 games of the season would be wise to keep doing what's worked all year, one more time.

It might seem puzzling that it's the Celtics - the team up 3-0 - talking about survival and vulnerability.

The reality is it's the Mavericks, complete with Australian pair Dante Exum and Josh Green, who are backed into a corner no NBA team has ever successfully escaped from.

They're 0-5 against Boston this season. They've been outscored nearly 2-to-1 from 3-point range in this series. They saw a 13-point lead turn into a 21-point deficit on their home floor in Game 3.

It's hard to find the proverbial silver lining, though the Mavs insist they still have hope.

"We're not in the off-season yet," Dallas superstar Luka Doncic said.

"They've still got to win one more game. We're going to believe until the end."

There have been no concession speeches from Dallas, but there is an understanding of how tall this mountain is to climb - and how nobody in the NBA has managed to scale it.

Boston came close last year, rallying from a three-game deficit to force a Game 7 at home against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose.

That came after the Celtics lost the 2022 NBA Finals to Golden State.

"When you look at the Celtics, they lose to the Warriors two years ago. They lose to Miami in Game 7 (last season)," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.

"It's just experience of understanding that you're not promised to get back, that you've got to work."

The only way for the Celtics to lose this series is if they lose the next four games.

Never mind the stat about how teams with 3-0 leads in a best-of-seven series are unbeatable - 156 teams have gone up 3-0, 156 teams have eventually prevailed in that series.

Consider this one instead - the last time the Celtics lost four consecutive games in the same season was in May 2021.

"From our experiences over the past couple of years, the thing we've really gotten a lot better at is not relaxing, not being complacent," Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said.

"Even now up 3-0, nobody is celebrating or anything. We still feel like there's a lot more we can do."

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