Dallas Mavericks

Rookie Lively leaving an impression as Mavericks try to stay alive in NBA Finals

AP

Dereck Lively II drained the first 3-pointer of his career, forced a missed layup at the other end, and ping-ponged back down the court to slam home an alley-oop pass.

The Dallas Mavericks didn't trail again in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against Boston following that first-quarter sequence from their 7-foot-1 rookie center.

And while a series loss to the Celtics with the title on the line still seems inevitable, the 20-year-old from Duke has left an impression on the global basketball stage.

Never mind the unmistakable imprint from Lively on a franchise that tanked to try to preserve the first-round draft pick that landed him — but wasn't really expecting this much this soon.

“I think people forget he’s a rookie,” superstar Luka Doncic said after the 122-84 blowout in Game 4 that kept Boston from sweeping. “He’s a rookie doing this stuff. He’s been amazing the whole season. Just watching him grow was unbelievable.”

Next up for Lively is trying to make a little more noise in Boston. The chance comes in Game 5 on Monday night.

In the two Dallas losses at TD Garden, he had a combined four points on four shots with 12 rebounds.

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Lively grabbed at least that many rebounds in each game in Dallas, scoring 11 points both times to join Magic Johnson (1980) as the only rookies with consecutive double-doubles in the NBA Finals.

He won't be the focal point for the jeers from the opposing crowd — fellow Duke alum Kyrie Irving is the foil for Boston fans after spurning their team in free agency five years ago and fueling the rage with his antics on the parquet floor since then.

Lively feels the need to prepare for it nonetheless.

“It’s going to be loud and nasty,” Lively said. “You do your best not to focus on the crowd. There’s going to be a lot of people talking to you. It’s part of the game. Part of the job.”

When the Mavericks added another pick-and-roller and rim protector before the trade deadline in Daniel Gafford, it figured to be for depth behind Lively.

But Lively was in and out of the lineup because of injuries in the second half of the season, and the Mavs went 18-2 in a 20-game stretch with Gafford as the starter.

Gafford has started every playoff game, but the pendulum has swung back to Lively as the primary contributor at center. His earliest entry into a game in the finals, with 9:30 left in the first quarter in Game 4, came not long before the corner 3 that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Had the score been closer, Lively probably would have had a second consecutive 30-minute game. At one point in the second half, he already had all 12 of his rebounds while Boston's entire team had 16.

“A lot of this playoff season, playoff series, has just been finding out who we are, finding how much can we get hit and then throw one back,” Lively said. “It’s definitely been an enjoyable time to just see my teammates and myself just grow and adapt with one another with what’s going on on the floor.”

Fans might have been asking what was going on when Doncic passed to Lively behind the 3-point line in the corner — and Lively shot it. The scene unfolded seven months to the day since Lively's most recent shot from behind the arc, one of just two in the regular season.

His fellow Mavs shrugged it off after the game.

“He can shoot,” coach Jason Kidd. “But as a 20-year-old, he’s grown up in the AAU circuit where in high school, he could shoot, he could handle. He’d tell you he played point guard.”

Irving probably wouldn't dispute it.

“I mean, if you’re familiar with D-Live’s game, you know in high school he was shooting those 3s,” Irving said. “It’s crazy. I was watching highlights not too long ago.”

The first priority for Lively in the offseason might be free throws. Oklahoma City fouled him on purpose a few times in the second-round series. He shot 50.6% from the line in the regular season but has improved to 59% (36 of 61) in the playoffs.

As for those 3s, Lively was seen shooting them during portions of practice open to reporters during the playoffs, and Kidd has called them the next step in his development.

Such talk bodes well for Lively's development in the areas where the Mavs will depend on him the most — around the basket.

“I wouldn’t have expected myself to be in this spot whenever I looked at the draft a year ago,” said Lively, who was taken 12th overall. “The draft is a week away. Last year, a week away from the draft, my heart was pumping because I didn’t know what was going to happen. And now I’m playing in the NBA Finals.”

And leaving an impression — again.

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