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Will Porzingis play and will Tatum find his shot? What we're watching for in Celtics-Mavericks Game 3

Porzingis is "Celtics cheat code" Leon Powe says after injury announcement
Porzingis is "Celtics cheat code" Leon Powe says after injury announcement 00:52

BOSTON -- After winning both games in Boston to start the NBA Finals, the Celtics have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday night. But Boston may have to do so without Kristaps Porzingis.

The big man is questionable with a rare tendon injury in his left leg, and he's viewed as day-to-day for however long this series goes on.

Even before news of Porzingis' injury broke on Tuesday, the Celtics were underdogs heading into Wednesday night's Game 3. Sports books have the home Mavericks favored by two or 2.5 points for Wednesday's tilt (which went up slightly with Tuesday's update on Porzingis), marking just the fourth time all season -- and first time in the playoffs -- that the Celtics are underdogs. 

It's a bit odd given how the Celtics have looked against the Mavs -- and how the Mavs have looked against the Celtics -- over the first two games of the NBA Finals. Plus, Boston is a perfect 6-0 on the road in the postseason while Dallas is only 5-3 at home.

But returning to American Airlines Arena may be the Mavericks' best shot at making this a series again. And a win in Game 3 could cause a huge swing in momentum in the Finals. 

Here's what we'll be watching for as the Celtics look to stay perfect on the road and move to just one win away from raising a new banner inside TD Garden.

Will Porzingis play -- and what if he doesn't? 

At least the Celtics have some experience with this. Porzingis and Joe Mazzulla were both excessively optimistic on Sunday night in regards to the big man's status going forward. But that was tossed in a shredder Tuesday afternoon when the team announced that Porzingis had suffered a "rare" and "serious" tendon injury in his left leg.

Porzingis was a huge factor for the Celtics in his two games back from a calf strain, presenting the Mavs with a mismatch nightmare off the bench. They had no answer for the 7-foot-4 unicorn, who made an impact with his mid-range and long distant attack on offense and his rim protection on defense. The Celtics will greatly miss all of that if Porzingis is sidelined Wednesday night. Whether he plays or not is now in the hands of the Boston medical staff.

"I'm optimistic, and I will do everything I can to be out there [for Game 3]," Porzingis said Tuesday. "I'll leave it in the medical staff's hands to determine whether I can go or not. But from my side, as I said, nothing is going to stop me unless I'm told I'm not allowed to play. That's the only reason I would not be out there."

There is some optimism that Porzingis will be able to at least give it a try, but then the question becomes how effective will he be -- and is it worth the risk of further injury? 

Not having Porzingis would mean more playing time for 38-year-old Al Horford, which could get dicey if the series drags out. Luke Kornet could be called upon to help against the Dallas lob game, though the Celtics could opt to go small and send out Xavier Tillman for some energy and toughness. Oshae Brissett is also an option off the bench if Mazzulla decides to play smallball.

Can Jayson Tatum find his shot around the rim?

It's hard not to like this new, more mature version of Tatum that isn't forcing shots and is instead torching the Dallas defense with some really nice passes. It also helps that he is surrounded by teammates that can knock down shots on a consistent basis.

Now the Celtics need Tatum to do the same, especially around the rim and especially if Porzingis is out. We're not asking him to force shots when he's got a trio of Mavericks jumping in front of him, but he needs to start finishing around the basket. 

Tatum's struggles from downtown are well-documented this postseason. He's hitting just 28.6 percent from three against the Mavs (4-for-14) and just 28.9 percent for the playoffs. His three-ball just isn't a reliable weapon at this moment.

But his inability to finish around the rim is even more frustrating. Tatum is hitting just 43.8 percent of his shots from less than five feet, which ranks seventh among the seven Celtics to attempt a shot at the rim in the Finals. He was just 5-for-15 under the basket in Game 2 and went 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter, including a miss at the rim with 55 seconds left in a five-point game.

He's got to start slamming those down -- or at least put them in the hoop.

"I understand that I do need to be more efficient. I do need to shoot the ball better, I would not disagree with anybody on that," Tatum said Tuesday. "But I'm not letting it bother me. I'm still trying to find ways to impact the game and dominate the game in other areas."

The Celtics should still go heavy with their drive-and-dish attack on offense. But if Tatum is going to take it to the hoop, he's got to start putting in his shots around the rim. 

Are Mavericks due for a Kyrie correction?

Kyrie has been abysmal this series and has now lost a dozen straight games against the Celtics going back to the 2022 season. He's averaged just 19.7 points, hitting 41.1 percent from the floor and 26.4 percent from three-point range over those 12 games. Irving hasn't hit a three in four of his last five playoff games against Boston.

Over the first two games of the Finals, Irving hit just 13 of his 37 shots for a 35 percent shooting percentage. He's missed all eight of his three-point attempts, and is a minus-22 in his time on the floor. 

Now that the series is shifting to Dallas, the Celtics should expect a better Irving to take the floor for the Mavs. He's averaged 24.1 points over eight home games this postseason, and has had some of his biggest games at American Airlines Arena. 

What will a desperate Dallas team look like?

The home fans should give Dallas' role players a big boost, and the Mavs will need that. Luka Doncic has averaged 31 points per game this series, but no one else in a Mavs uniform has scored more than 20 points in the Finals. He has hit eight threes this series, while everyone else on the Dallas roster is 5-for-32 from deep.

Basically, the Mavericks are getting nothing offensively outside of Doncic. 

Some home cooking might get guys like Irving, P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones Jr., and big men Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II going offensively, so the Celtics need to be ready for some more juice out of Dallas role players on Wednesday night.

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