Boston Celtics

Tillman shines in Finals debut: ‘I was ready for my moment'

With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined, Xavier Tillman played a key role off the bench for the Celtics.

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The Boston Celtics took care of business on the road again Wednesday night, beating the Dallas Mavericks 106-99 in Game 3 of the 2024 NBA Finals to take a 3-0 series lead. With Kristaps Porzingis ruled out with a rare left leg injury, the Celtics added a new big man to their Finals rotation: Xavier Tillman.

Acquired at the NBA trade deadline from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Lamar Stevens and two future second-round picks, Tillman cracked Boston's competitive rotation for the first time since its Game 4 win over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tillman was the Celtics' first man off the bench in Wednesday night's win, logging four rebounds and two blocks. The 2020 second-round draft pick also knocked down an out-of-character 3-pointer -- he hit just 24.7 percent of his perimeter shots this season.

Following the win, NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin caught up with Boston's Game 3 spark plug to discuss his newfound opportunity in a playoff team's rotation.

"It felt amazing," Tillman told Chin of his chance to play in a Finals game. "I feel like all the preparation that I've gone through -- I was ready for my moment whenever it was needed, and it felt amazing."

While Tillman's stats may not stand out, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound big man played a key role in Boston's defense in the paint, leading the Celtics' bench unit in rebounds.

"Literally when we got here and they said KP isn't going to be able to go," Tillman said of when he found out he was going to get some minutes. "I played my game -- my game is defense, my game is communication, my game is setting screens, my game is hitting corner 3s -- so that's just me playing my game."

Tillman's 3-pointer came late in the third after rallying back from an early game deficit. With a 10-point lead, Jaylen Brown found Tillman wide open in the corner adjacent to Dallas' bench. Blocking out the trash talk from players on the Mavs' bench, Tillman drilled the three to give the C's a 13-point lead.

"It felt good," Tillman said with a laugh. "Their bench was talking trash, but I was ready."

Before Tillman hit that 3-pointer, the C's first had to battle back from a 13-point first-quarter deficit. According to Tillman, he had full faith in his team's ability to get out of that tough situation, crediting moments from earlier in the season that prepared them for a situation like that.

"We've gone through a lot of adversity this season; we're built for those tough moments," Tillman told Chin. "I feel like it's more important than ever to just stay together in those tough moments. Al [Horford] was bringing us together, telling everybody to take a deep breath. Then it was a three-point game and we were ready to go."

The Celtics are one win away from raising Banner 18, but Tillman made it clear they can't get ahead of themselves and that the job isn't finished.

"We're not satisfied," Tillman added. "We know they're going to try and punch us in the mouth [in Game 4] so we have to be ready to go."

The Celtics will look to complete their goal of winning the championship by completing the sweep on Friday night in Dallas. NBC Sports Boston's Celtics Pregame Live coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with tipoff at 8:30 p.m.

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