Jason  Tatum drives to the basket in Dallas. GETTY IMAGES

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 62 points for the Mavericks but Boston capitalized on 61 by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and a killer third quarter to defeat the home team by 99-106. The C’s could now sweep the series for the first time since 2018.

No Kristaps Porzingis? No problem for the Celtics, who are currently standing just a win away from raising a record-setting 18th championship banner in their TD Garden arena. The Latvian center who sparked the Game 1 win in Boston and was key in Game 2 was unavailable for Game 3 in Dallas on Wednesday; but the 17-time champions did not fold and showcased a strong defensive effort to win, not to mention a great showing by both of their own stars: Tatum and Brown.

Doncic had 27 points, six assists and six boards, before fouling out with just four minutes and 12 seconds to go while the Mavericks were in the midst of a 22-2 run that inched them within a possession of tying or surpassing the Celtics, who had staged their own come from behind effort in the third quarter, where they heavily outscored the home team by 35-19. Irving, who was subpar in the first two games in Boston, shined in front of the Texan fans with 35 points, but Boston again displayed better stamina and athleticism throughout the game and came away with their tenth win in a row.

The Joe Mazzulla-led squad has now gone 15-2 in the Playoffs and boasts a perfect 7-0 visiting record, thanks in part to Brown, who did not make this season’s All-NBA team and has been superb in the Finals. The two-way forward led the Celtics’ defensive stand at the American Airlines Center while contributing 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Despite previous lacklustre showings at home, Tatum also played a well-rounded game with 31 points and all-purpose guard Jrue Holiday again flashed his defensive skills while going an effective four of nine from the field.

"That was a big-time win for us, and I'm proud of how we played today,” Brown said. "They had some momentum, but we kept our poise. We made timely baskets. We got some good shots going in, and we found a way to win."

Pressed to avoid a sweep, Dallas started out with intensity and executed its half-court offense well in the opening quarter, getting to the rim with ease in Porzingis’ absence and registering its largest lead of the Finals at 13-5. Irving hit his first three-pointer of the series after going 0-8 in Boston, where he was booed heavily by the home fans that saw him depart in unfriendly terms five years ago. "They came out swinging," Tatum said. "That was to be expected. They were at home, and their crowd was behind them. This is obviously a big game. So we expected their first punch."

Luka Doncic's 27 points weren't enough for Dallas. GETTY IMAGES
Luka Doncic's 27 points weren't enough for Dallas. GETTY IMAGES

But Boston, who came into the Finals well rested after sweeping Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals, recovered thanks to some tenacious defense, well-timed Sam Hauser triples and an extended Brown layup that gave the visitors their fist lead at 32-31. Six straight misses by Doncic and better shot selection by Boston sparked a 21-10 rally which seemed to way heavily on Jason Kidd’s squad, even after intermission.

While the Mavs won in 2011 and came in second in 2006, the Celtics currently hold 17 NBA titles, the same as the longtime rival Los Angeles Lakers who, like the rest of the league, mourned the passing of legend Jerry West on Wednesday, at 86 years old.

Much like West, the face of the NBA logo and renowned sharpshooter back in his playing days, the Celtics hit their first seven shots of the third quarter and led 71-61 lead midway through the period after a thunderous Brown dunk.

Dallas tried to regroup as Irving came alive, but Doncic, who has been nursing a series of physical ailments, appeared tired at times, and the referee’s whistles definitely did not go the Mavs’ way. With a much-needed defensive effort and pressure at full tilt, the Slovenian star fouled out for the first time in his Playoff career, called for his second infraction in over a minute, while attempting to stop a decisive drive by Tatum.

"We couldn't play physical," Doncic complained, visibly annoyed with the officiating. "I don't want to say nothing ... you know, six fouls in the NBA Finals -- c'mon man. (Do) better than that."

The do-it-all superstar, who is expected to headline the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics, had to watch from the bench as Dallas floundered in the last minutes despite making it 98-100 with 1m20 left. But Brown put the exclamation point with a sweet jumper and the visitors closed down the defensive clamps to seal the deal. "Unfortunately, we could just not get over the hump tonight," coach Jason Kidd said.

Boston can close out the series in Game 4 on Friday, again at American Airlines Arena. The only time the Celtics led 3-0 in the Finals, they swept the Lakers in 1959. The last time a team won 4-0 was 2018, when the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We are not relaxing or anything like that," Tatum said, "Not even focusing on winning on Friday or whatever. However long it takes, that's our motto. However long it takes, that's what it's going to take, and nobody is not trying to relax at all."

 Despite no team ever coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Finals history, Doncic would not back down from the fight. “We had a good chance. We were close. Just didn’t get it. I wish I was out there. It's not over until it's over. We've got to stay together," he said