The backbreaking strategy that has driven Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to the brink

How Celtics were able to weather Mavs' surge (2:00)

JJ Redick and Doris Burke credit the Celtics' ability to weather a late Mavericks' run to take Game 3. (2:00)

The image is not flattering from any angle, and yet it will be the enduring one from these NBA Finals. The magnificent Luka Doncic is sitting on the ground, legs splayed wide, face exasperated, arms raised with his palms up, beseeching anyone who would listen to reverse his sixth foul of the night and give the Mavericks a chance to come back in Game 3.

It was his third foul in five minutes of the fourth quarter, and perhaps the closest call of the lot. The Mavericks, in a fit of desperation, challenged it, but the call stood, no matter how long Doncic sat and argued. And shortly thereafter the game was over, too, as the Boston Celtics took a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 106-99 victory.

Doncic's meltdown and continued inability to control his emotions with officials will be his legacy from this game and these Finals.

"He's definitely got a bull's-eye on his chest," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. "He's got to be able to guard and understand that we're there to protect him and help him if he does get beat."

This will be his hill to climb during the next phase of his NBA career, if he is to become a champion and fulfill the promise of his transcendent talent.

But there's also a team on the other side of the ball driving him to that undignified seat on the floor -- by overloading the Mavericks with an unrelenting barrage of 3-pointers unlike anything we've ever seen in the NBA Finals.

Fifty-six percent of Boston's shots in Game 3 were 3-point attempts -- the highest rate ever in an NBA Finals game. They've made 43 3-pointers in the series, nearly double the Mavericks' 22. That plus-21 margin is the largest in any three-game span in Finals history.

This is just math. Cold, hard math. Three is greater than two, and the more 3s you take, the more that advantage grows, so long as you shoot a respectable clip, which the Celtics have done (barely) at 34% (down from 38.8% in the regular season).

And while the calculus seems simple, it has stretched the Mavericks nearly beyond recognition.

The many examples of Doncic flopping, then complaining, then slowly -- petulantly -- getting back on defense, might be the enduring image, but others mirrored the sequence.

P.J. Washington struck a similarly frustrated pose after he was whistled for an offensive foul late in the fourth quarter with the Mavericks trying to even the score for the first time since early in the second half. Before he could finish pleading his case, the Celtics had raced down the court, where Jrue Holiday drove the lane, drew in two defenders, found Derrick White on the perimeter for an open 3 and built the lead back up to 98-92.

White had been 3-for-9 from the field before hitting that shot. But he did what the Celtics have leaned hard into this season as they built the best offense in NBA history: He kept shooting.

"I mean I missed a lot in the first half, but they felt good. Back rim. So I just stay confident through the whole year, in that fourth quarter, I've shot it really good," White said. "I just trust the flow of the game and just take and make good shots."

The Celtics use that phrase, "good shots," all the time. Often, they are referring to 3-point shots. But this is not a straight analytics play, like the Daryl Morey-era Houston Rockets. Or an evolution of the trend that has revolutionized offense in the NBA the past two decades.

Boston doesn't have a superstar shooter like Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, whose otherworldly prowess behind the 3-point arc became the basis for Golden State's offensive system.

No, what Boston is doing as a 3-point shooting team is a result of nearly a decade of team building, of tinkering. A reflection of the journey the Celtics have been on to win with the unique but duplicative strengths of their two young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Neither player is as dominant offensively as a player such as Doncic or Curry or LeBron James. They each need space to operate. Sometimes they have to trade off playmaking or scoring duties. It has often been an awkward fit. But this year, and especially in these Finals, they've finally "graduated," as Brown said during huddles in the second half, to a different level.

"We don't come in and write 'Let's take 40 3s' on the board," Tatum told ESPN after the game. "We really just play to our strength every single night.

"Not to throw other teams under the bus, but a lot of teams kind of struggle with it because they have one or two guys that you can help off on. And we never really have that."

Boston has seven players who have made 20 or more 3-pointers this postseason, tied for the most by any team in a single postseason in NBA history.

Everyone can hit a 3, everyone can drive, everyone can defend. There's no defensive help when a team is built like this, and 48 minutes of it stresses opposing defenses and pushes stars like Doncic to their breaking points.

"They make it tough," Kidd said, shaking his head. "They will wear on you as the game goes on."

Boston coach Joe Mazzulla speaks quickly, with such a metronomic cadence, it's easy to miss the wisdom and nuance of what he says.

"Anytime you're developing a new philosophy or a new style, it just takes time for understanding and execution," he said when asked about the volume of 3-pointers the Celtics attempt. "So credit to the guys where we decided how we are going to play, and we fight to do that."

White has heard enough of Mazzulla's coaching to understand just what he means. "The way he sees the game I think is just next-level," White told ESPN. "People can say what they want to say. But he sees the game and what advantages we can take, how we can get an advantage and we just make the read off of that."

Two years ago, the Celtics were beaten in the Finals by the Golden State Warriors, whose 3-point shooting has defined this era in the NBA.

It's tempting to look at the changes Boston has made since as a reckoning or response to that loss. But so much has happened since then, from the dismissal of coach Ime Udoka, to the Marcus Smart, Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis trades, that the connection blurs upon simple review.

No, these Celtics have arrived here by constantly and rigorously studying their team and experimenting with how to maximize the talents of their two young stars, fueled by a historic devotion to "good shots."

The result has been an offensive onslaught that has left Doncic and the Mavericks wobbly and flailing -- and the Celtics one win away from hanging the long-awaited 18th banner in their rafters.