The Dallas Mavericks had to come out of Game 4 and mean business, as any lapse in concentration would mean the end of their championship hopes. Accordingly, they wasted no time to put their stamp on the game. Thanks to a strong start in the first quarter spurred on by a version of Luka Doncic who was eager to bounce back from his disappointing Game 3, the Mavs took a 122-84 win over the Boston Celtics to send the 2024 NBA Finals back to Beantown.

Doncic, in particular, feasted on the Celtics' defense in the first half which the Mavericks ended with a 26-point lead, 61-35. The Slovenian superstar got the switch he wanted on nearly every possession and took the Celtics' defense to school, ending up with 25 points on 10-18 shooting from the field as the Mavs had the game won after just 24 minutes of play in Game 4.

In so doing, Luka Doncic continued to set Mavericks franchise records. With 25 points in the first half, he is now the all-time record-holder for most points in a half of a single Finals game in franchise history, as per Joey Mistretta, Mavericks beat reporter for ClutchPoints. Doncic surpassed Dirk Nowitzki, who had 24 points in the second half of Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, for the record.

Of course, there would be no other player than Nowitzki to hold the record before Doncic took the top spot on Friday night. The Mavericks franchise has only made the NBA Finals three times, and in two of those, Nowitzki was the team's undisputed best player. Nonetheless, even with Doncic holding this record now, the task ahead remains awfully difficult for the Mavs as they try to climb back from a 3-0 hole against the Celtics. Friday was a step in the right direction. But can they do it three more times?

Luka Doncic did not want to go home just yet

The main story coming out of Game 3 was that Luka Doncic's defense wasn't at the level the Mavericks need it to be to win a championship. Doncic has been targeted by the Celtics on screening actions, forcing him to guard the ballhandler one on one. He has allowed a troublingly high percentage of blow-bys, putting the Mavericks in such a difficult spot. Moreover, he fouled out during that must-win game, stopping the Mavs' comeback attempt in its tracks.

Doncic, however, vowed to be better. Until the Celtics win four games, the Mavericks' championship hopes are alive, and Doncic certainly played like a man who did not want to see his team's hopes of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy die completely just yet.

He scored 13 in the first quarter and 12 in the second, bending the Celtics' defense to his will as they built a huge lead. And he did all that despite not making a single three in the half — and he even ended up going 0-8 from deep on the night. Moreover, Doncic actually played good defense, moving his feet and not allowing the Celtics to get whatever they wanted in the paint.

Luka Doncic heard the noise and instead of crumbling, he responded like a true all-time great would. He bounced back and showed the world why the Mavericks are still in championship contention, much to the delight of fans.

“Luka ain’t ready to go home. Good s**t f**k Boston.” – @ImBeezy_

“Luka Dončić was absolutely cooking in the first half 😭🔥. 23 points scored in a quarter and a half is elite stuff. 🔥🔥” – @ViwePotelwa

“Incredible first half by Luka on both ends of the ball and didn’t complain once but the TL won’t tweet about it.” – @SideStepSam_

“25pts in the first half a Finals elimination game. And none of us are surprised. The kid is already a LEGEND. Luka, Bring home this W!” – @MavsHighlights

Mavericks keep their championship dreams alive

It wasn't just Luka Doncic who was on point for the Mavericks during that decisive first-half effort against the Celtics in Game 4. Kyrie Irving carried over his strong Game 3 performance into Friday night, scoring 11 points in the first half to combine for 36 points with Doncic — outscoring the Celtics by themselves.

The Mavericks' role players finally showed up to the fight as well; Dante Exum and Maxi Kleber gave them some very good minutes in the first half, and it was their energy that helped Dallas build a huge lead.

Exum finished as a +11 in his eight minutes on the floor in the first half, and he also added five points, including a three-pointer, to give the Mavericks some additional scoring punch. Kleber, who had a rough Game 3, was called into action early amid PJ Washington's foul trouble, and his presence was game-changing. The Mavs were +23 with him on the court in the first half, stepping up on defense as they held the Celtics in check.

This was a championship-worthy performance from two unheralded bench players in Exum and Kleber. The Mavericks will hope that they could approximate their impact in Game 4 as they look to pull off the unthinkable.