Celtics Effectively Used UFC Philosophy In NBA Finals Game 3 Win

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Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla is an advocate for being open-minded, even in the NBA Finals, and even if it requires Boston to consider learning lessons outside of basketball.

That came especially in handy when fending off the desperate Mavericks in the second half of Game 3.

“Joe does a great job of showing us clips and things from different sports, right?” Tatum said after Boston’s 106-99 Game 3 win, per a league-provided transcript. “He’s a big UFC fan. And you know, showing us fights of people that — I don’t know like the terminology of UFC, but put them in a chokehold and (expletive) like they about to tap out. You just see the guy or the woman who is winning relaxing because they feel like they are about to win, and then, you know, you give the other person life.”

Mazzulla, a martial arts fan who’s practiced jiu-jitsu off the court, looked toward NFL defenses, and shares a friendship with Man City manager Pep Guardiola. Therefore, it’s not unusual for Mazzulla’s student-like approach to generate an influence that not only resonates with the Celtics locker room but directly impacts the team’s handling of adverse moments.

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Before Mavericks star Luka Doncic fouled out for the first time in the NBA playoffs, Dallas was cutting into Boston’s lead. The Celtics were ahead, 85-70, to begin the fourth quarter, however, a 20-8 Dallas run gave the deflated Mavericks a fighting chance, bringing the score to a feasible 93-90 — before Doncic fouled out with 4:12 left and watched from the sidelines.

Identifying Doncic’s early exit as the perfect opportunity, the Celtics went into attack mode and out-scored Dallas, 13-7, in the final 3:35 of regulation. No chance at overtime, no chance at cutting the series lead to 2-1, and no chance at allowing the American Airlines Center crowd to make its exit without an overwhelming feeling of disappointment.

“You know, the closer you are to winning, the closer they are to surviving,” Tatum continued on Mazzulla’s philosophy. “Basically just trying to remind us in the group that we’ve still got a long way to go. We still have to play the right way. We’ve still got to win. They are not going to quit, and we should expect the best from them from here on out.”

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Tatum, too, put the knockout blow-seeking mindset into practice. Putting previous shooting struggles aside — Tatum shot 31.6% in Games 1 and 2 — the five-time All-Star was hungry for a 3-0 lead from the start. Tatum scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the first half before eventually finishing with a Finals career-best 31 points in 42 minutes.

Granted, Boston is guilty of letting off on the gas pedal. The Celtics held a 91-70 advantage with 10:21 left in the final frame, which took the crowd and Dallas head coach Jason Kidd out of it. But flipping that into a calm, settled-down, and smooth landing in 3-0 territory is just what Boston — winners of 10 consecutive postseason games — needed.

If all goes well in Game 4 on Friday night, the Celtics will fly back to Boston, not for a Game 5, but with a Larry O’Brien Trophy to hoist.

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