OK, let’s be honest: The Celtics  had no business beating Dallas Thursday. They had played a grueling game the night before in New Orleans, and they have played the busiest, if not the most arduous, schedule in the NBA during the first half of the season. (Click here for the recap ).
For two and a half quarters against the Mavs, they weren’t very good. They were bad offensively in the first quarter, and bad defensively in the second. Doc Rivers  got thrown out, making it two games in two days that he has received technicals. Kevin Garnett  played the whole game in foul trouble, and lost his cool with Dirk Nowitzki  who had a huge night with a lot of it coming at his expense. Ray Allen  was coming back from his thumb injury and didn’t look right, at least to start the game, and Paul Pierce  was in one of his circa 2006-07 funks.
So, when the Mavs got up by 15 points things didn’t look real good. For some reason, and maybe it’s the playoff comebacks from a year ago, the Celtics seem to turn it on just when you think it’s not going to happen. And so Allen made a couple of shots, and then Pierce went nuts in the fourth quarter and before you knew it, Dallas was a ghost town and Mark Cuban wasn’t giving anyone in green high fives on the way off the floor like he gave Rivers after he got the gate.
With that emphatic exclamation point, the Celtics closed out the first half of the season with the best record in the league and the second-best point-differential (behind Cleveland) and the second-best efficiency-differential (also behind Cleveland).
Getting there hasn’t been as neat and orderly as one might have thought, but that’s where they are.
Six more observations from the final game before the break:
1. Rajon Rondo  didn’t make the All-Star team. There are lots and lots of numbers and analytical arguments that say he got robbed. But the moment LeBron James  said it wasn’t fair that his guy, Mo Williams , didn’t make it ahead of Ray Allen there was never any question about whom would be called next. Williams is a very good player having a very good season but he hasn’t made the kind of impact that Rondo has.
Playing against Jason Kidd , a big guard (remember when those were supposed to be the kiss of death for him?) with a great defensive reputation, Rondo dominated with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists for his second triple-double.
Pierce was the man of the hour, but Rondo was the player of the game.
2. Speaking of Pierce… At this point in his season, one can usually tell when Pierce is about to go off. We’ve seen it so many times where he just decides (and yes that seems to be the right word) it’s time to take over, and everything changes. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see this one coming.
He wasn’t just struggling, he was frustrated, which is usually not a great combination for him. But once Garnett got into his skirmish with Nowitzki it seemed like Pierce realized that if he didn’t calm everybody down, then bad things were about to happen.
Once the Celtics got control in the fourth there was no way Dallas was going to stop him.
3. Leon Powe  was on the floor in crunch time because of his defense.
That is not a usual occurrence but credit assistant Tom Thibodeau  with calling on him to match up with Nowitzki. Powe is quicker than Kendrick Perkins , but almost as strong, and he at least made Dirk work for it down the final stretch. Plus, it kept Garnett away from both his sixth foul and possibly going Hasselhoff on the big German.
4. Gabe Pruitt  played seven of the most innocuous minutes you will ever see. A long time ago I heard a great phrase for a guy who gets in the game for a minute and then doesn’t fill up anything else on the stat sheet: A trillion. As in, Kevin Ollie leads the league in recording trillions. With seven minutes and one rebound, Pruitt came very close to a seven trillion.
Pruitt can play and it seems likely that he’s going to have an NBA career of some import. But he’s still making the adjustment from starter, which he has been his entire hoops life, to reserve, and there are times when he is too passive with the time he has had.
He didn’t do anything wrong, but to make an impact off the bench he has to start making things happen.
5. The NBA is buzzing with all kinds of trade scenarios, mainly involving Amare Stoudemire, who has been rumored to be going to Miami, Chicago and even Memphis. The Celtics are not involved in anything of that size, and don’t seem likely to be involved in much of anything at the trade deadline.
Where they could be active though, is the window between the Feb. 19 deadline and the March 1 deadline for adding players who would then be eligible for the playoff roster. Presumably a few people are going to get waived if they can’t be traded.
People like Stephon Marbury–stop us if you’ve heard that one before–or maybe Joe Smith if Oklahoma City can’t move him at the deadline. Danny Ainge told the Herald the other day that he was fine with the roster and didn’t feel the need to do anything. But he didn’t rule it out either.
The one guy who is actually available, PJ Brown, said last night that he is retired, and I’m inclined to believe him. Winning a championship was always his exit strategy. You never say never but…
6. Ray Allen’s toughness is not usually spoken of in hushed tones the way people talk about Pierce or Garnett. And it’s not like he has anything to prove either, but for him to play 24 hours after spraining his thumb, and play well, says a lot about him.
As a programming note, I’ll be live-blogging the All-Star game, so please check back Sunday night.