They made it way harder than it had to be, but the Boston Celtics got a win over the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night, winning 115-112 in double overtime. Paul Pierce scored 34 to lead Boston while Rajon Rondo just missed his 25th career triple double, recording 16 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists. O.J. Mayo led the way for Dallas with 24 points while Darren Collison added 20 off the bench and Dallas overcame a 14 point third quarter deficit to force overtime. But, after the first extra frame was inconclusive, Pierce hit a three to start the second overtime and the Mavericks were never able get even again. Boston had opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and the first overtime, but both Rondo and Pierce failed to catch iron on their fall away jump shots as each buzzer sounded. It was the ultimate ugly win for Boston, who almost let it slip away after being in control for three quarters, but a win is a win. The Celtics have now won two in a row, moving to 12-9 on the season.
Turning Point I – Celtics Pull Ahead, But Don't Pull Away
For the better part of three quarters the Celtics were doing whatever they wanted on Wednesday. Paul Pierce was totally abusing Derek Fisher who had no chance of guarding him. Meanwhile the Celtics were blitzing O.J. Mayo on defense and the Dallas star seemed completely unable to deal with it – he turned the ball over nine times on the night. Boston pulled ahead by double digits twice in the first half, and a Chris Wilcox alley-oop put them up 14 with 4:57 remaining in the third. However much has been made of Boston's inability to defend leads and this deficiency reared its' ugly head again on Wednesday. Collison hit a three on the other end to cut lead back down to 11 following Wilcox's score and the Celtics offense completely shut down for the final five minutes of the third. They scored only six points, allowing Dallas to go on a 14-4 run over that span and cut the deficit to just four before a Rondo jumper at the buzzer made it a six point game entering the fourth.
Turning Point II – KG Can't Stop the Bleeding
Last time out against Philadelphia the Celtics were on the verge of giving another double digit lead away before Kevin Garnett subbed back in and restored order. He tried to do the same on Wednesday but it didn't work out quite as well. The Celtics were scoring easily to start the fourth but they weren't getting any stops on the other end, and trading hoops is never the way to defend a lead. Eventually the Celtics stopped scoring and the Mavericks, who for a while looked like they might never get over the hump, finally pulled even at 92 with on a Collison layup with 2:20 remaining.
Turning Point III – Rondo Can't Win It
After a Rondo jumper Fisher buried a dagger three that put the 'Mavs up 95-94 with 1:47 to remain (as if Celtics fans needed another reminder of why they hate Derek Fisher). Pierce came down the other end and hit a turnaround over Fisher to put the Celtics back up, then Mayo split a pair of free throws to knot the game 96 with 52 seconds remaining. The Mavs had a chance to win after a Pierce miss, but Rondo made an excellent play knocking the ball away from Mayo and giving Boston the ball with 6.9 seconds left in regulation. However Garnett made the mental error of trying to advance the ball instead of immediately calling a timeout, meaning that the Celtics had to take the ball out in the backcourt. Rondo then for some reason dribbled the whole way up the court instead of his usual technique of waiting to pick up the ball until he has to (the clock doesn't start until a player touches the ball). Rondo wasn't able to get a quality shot off and the Celtics went to overtime in a game they held a double digit lead in three times.
Turning Point IV – Pierce Can't Either
Both teams traded hoops for most of the first overtime, but Mayo beat Rondo of the dribble for a layup that tied the game 105-105 with 11.1 remaining. The Celtics had plenty of time to draw up a quality play but once again settled for a difficult fall away jumper, this time by Pierce who threw up an air ball over Dahntay Jones as the buzzer sounded. Pierce was clearly fouled on the play. Jones hit him on the arm, but officials rarely make that kind of call when the game is on the line. It's hard to believe that, with two chances to win it at the buzzer, the Celtics couldn't come up with something a little better. Their late game execution was very lacking on Wednesday.
Turning Point V – Both Teams Run Out of Gas, Celtics Survive
Pierce hit a three to start the second overtime and Mayo answered with a driving layup, putting the game at 108-107 Boston with 4:05 remaining. Both teams then failed to score for the next three and a half minutes. It was one of the ugliest stretches of basketball anyone will ever see. Both teams were clearly exhausted and weren't running anything even resembling an offense. The Celtics were just lucky that they were ahead. Rondo banked in a layup with 35 seconds remaining to put the Celtics up three again. Collison then missed a jumper with 23 seconds left on the clock and Pierce sealed the game at the line with five clutch free throws. It was the ultimate ugly game for both sides, but the Celtics came out on top.
The point has been beaten to death, but this was another game that could have been so much easier for Boston. The Celtics were completely locked in on both ends for the better part of three quarters. They were doing whatever they wanted and it really looked like they were going make short work of the Mavericks. Then they just stopped playing hard. It was very obvious. They had a 14 point lead, then turned the ball over in the backcourt three times after only turning it over four times to that point. They stopped running an offense and stopped playing hard on defense. They just checked out. This isn't just something that Celtics101 is saying, you could see it happening. They completely lost focus. This has happened repeatedly this year, particularly in the third quarter and it is unacceptable. It didn't cost the Celtics a win, but it easily could have and it made the win way harder than it had to be. They need to maintain focus for 48 minutes. 24 or 32 is not enough.
Find the Dagger
With that said this game would have been drastically different for Boston if a few more shots had gone down. In the first half Courtney Lee got two open from beyond the arc. Both times the Celtics were already ahead by double digits, and if those shots had gone down the lead would have really ballooned. Unfortunately they rimmed out and Dallas scored on the other end. Something similar happened in the third quarter as both Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger missed open looks. It was little things like this that kept Dallas to hanging around. The Celtics were in control for much of the night but they couldn't land the knockout punch.
What It Means
As Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston said "Burn the game film then burn it again." However a win is a win. The Mavs are a good team. They were without Dirk Nowitzki and it should have been a lot easier, but maybe that is encouraging – the Celtics won and could have won by a lot more. Celtics101 already said that fans were getting tired of the team playing well but still losing. On Wednesday they played decent and won. Boston will take that. They need the W's.
The Celtics embark on a three game road trip starting Friday at 8:00 p.m. when they face James Harden and the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. The trip also includes stops in San Antonio in Chicago before the Celtics return home to play the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 19th.
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