Dereck Livelly II executes a dunk against the Celtics in Game 4. GETTY IMAGES

Looking to notch up their first championship since 2008, the Celtics got humiliated in Dallas, losing 122-84, the third-largest margin in the series’ history, but still have three more chances to celebrate what would be a record-setting 18th title.

Next up for Boston will be Game 5 at TD Garden arena on Monday, but Joe Mazzulla’s team, who posted the regular season’s best record, will need a much better effort than the one it displayed on Friday at American Airlines arena, where it suffered its first away loss of the Playoffs, a devastating blowout to a rival that was against the ropes.

Usual suspects Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving were again key with 29 and 21 points, respectively and mostly in the first half, but it was a team effort for the Mavericks, who came out with a vengeance, got a quick lead and made it count the rest of the way. Jason Kidd wasted no time in putting in super-sub Dereck Lively II, and the rookie left his immediate imprint on the game with a block, a three-pointer and a thunderous dunk that sent the Texan fans into a frenzy.

“It’s real simple. We don’t have to complicate this. This isn’t surgery,” coach Kidd said. “Our group was ready to go. They were ready to celebrate and we made a stand. We were desperate. We’ve got to continue to keep playing that way. They’re trying to close the door. The hardest thing in this league is to close the door when you have a group that has nothing to lose. Tonight, you saw that.”

After getting outpaced in the previous three games, Dallas controlled the tempo in its do-or-die situation, manufactured open looks at the basket and capitalized on successive Irving and PJ Washington triples to build a 34-21 advantage. While the Eastern Conference Champions struggled to focus out of the gate, turning the ball over and missing from long distance, the Mavs got a huge boost from their bench, with Dante Exum also coming alive and generating offense.

Back on their heels, the visitors surrendered the paint and open corner three pointers, which Dallas had failed to hit in the Finals. Without injured center Kristaps Porzingis, the rim protection wasn´t there either and Doncic relentlessly pounded the heart of the defense, converting a layup plus the personal foul shot to reach the 50-point mark for the home team, with five minutes remaining until intermission.

The Dallas defense held off the Celtics in Game 4. GETTY IMAGES
The Dallas defense held off the Celtics in Game 4. GETTY IMAGES

The Slovenian superstar, who had fouled out in the previous contest and is set to participate in the upcoming Summer Olympics, had said pre-game that “having fun” would be key to any attempt at a Finals comeback. After the three-point play, he smiled and summarized the shift in momentum, while Mazzulla’s squad committed 24-second violations and failed to secure rebounds on both sides of the floor.

At halftime, Doncic and Irving had more points than the whole Celtics roster, who displayed appalling lifelessness the rest of the way, as big men Daniel Gafford and Lively feasted on the visiting rim with alley-oops and two-handed dunks aplenty, and Tim Hardaway Jr. joined the party from long range with a flurry of triples, going five for seven.

The magnificent duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown was nowhere to be seen in what Boston fans hoped would be their close-out game, combing for a sub-par 25 points, six rebounds and five turnovers; and Doncic and Irving sat down to rest with the third quarter still underway, watching from the bench as Hardaway Jr. hit a three to reach 100 points with 9m27s to go in the game. The forgotten scorer contributed with 15 points, while Lively finished with 11, plus 12 boards. "I thought they played with a ton of energy and physicality," Mazzulla conceded. "And they are a great team, that's the reason why they are here when they play like that."

Now the series travels back to Massachusetts, where the Celtics lost their only two Playoffs contests before their Texas massacre. The odds are still stacked in their favour, as no club has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in Finals history and the 17 championship banners hanging from the TD Garden rafters can often help intimidate opponents. “I expect us to be much better on Monday,” Celtics center Al Horford said.

Irving did manage to overcome a 3-1 disadvantage in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, when he hit the title-winning shot, and Doncic also has plenty of experience in high-pressure situations from his Euroleague days with Real Madrid. “The win doesn’t change anything. Like I said in the beginning of this series, it’s the first to four. And we’re going to believe until the end. We’re just going to keep going. I have big belief in this team that we can do it,” Doncic said.

Porzingis’ status remains uncertain and the Latvian center has been key in the Celtics’ 2-0 start. His non-presence in the rotation was also felt initially in Game 3, though Boston was able to fight through it. Whether Mazzulla has answers for the Mavericks’ recent revival, though, remains a bigger question mark in their title quest, with KP or not.