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Fast Break: Shot down by Dallas 02.04.11 at 10:39 pm ET
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The Dallas Mavericks are a strange team. That’s meant as a compliment. They have a number of smaller players who can create havoc both offensively and defensively. They also have a 7-foot jump shooter in Dirk Nowitzki who might be the MVP of the league. The Celtics usually make teams play the way they want to play, but they were never able to impose their game on the Mavs.

The result was a wildly entertaining, and slightly weird, game in which both teams shot close to 50 percent and got more offensive rebounds than they typically do in a week. It featured Ray Allen raining 3′s, and also blocking a 7-footer at the rim. Nowitzki made one shot in the first quarter, and still finished with 29 points.

It came down to the final few possessions when everything once again went haywire. Rajon Rondo missed a jumper, Allen forced a shot and after getting a steal on the defensive end, Kevin Garnett had a 20-footer rim in and out. That gave the Mavericks life and Jason Kidd answered with an open 3 off a wild scrum from the top of the key. The Celtics had a chance to tie the game, but a Rondo lob to Garnett with 2.5 seconds left sailed a few inches too high.

Ultimately, it goes in the books as a 101-97 loss and a tough way for the Celtics to start their stretch of games against the best teams in the league, a group that definitely includes the Mavericks.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Bad start: The Celtics gave up 34 points in the first quarter (a season-high) and allowed the Mavs to shoot 67 percent from the floor. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also allowed the Mavericks to make 5-of-6 from behind the arc. It was as bad a defensive performance as the Celtics have had all season and left the fighting to get out of the hole all night long.

Cross matchups: Dallas started an unconventional lineup with J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson. That led to all kind of cross matchups with Allen guarding Kidd. When coach Rick Carlisle went to Jason Terry and Shawn Marion in his rotation that only led to more strange scenarios such as Kendrick Perkins guarding Marion. The Celtics were never really able to get into a defensive rhythm.

Kevin Garnett may get fined: Another game, another KG incident. His latest misadventure came when he got tangled up with Barea on a layup. Garnett threw an elbow and was given a technical. As they were getting untangled, referee Eric Lewis put his hand on Garnett’s arm and Garnett shoved it aside. That move will likely cost him some money.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ray Allen just keeps rolling: Allen got off to a slow start, but the thing with him is you never know when he’s going to go off. On Friday it was the third quarter when he drained 5-of-6 shots and scored 14 of his 24 points. If that wasn’t enough, Allen went over Nowitzki for a tip-in and straight blocked Tyson Chandler who was going up for a dunk.

Better bench play: Doc Rivers yanked his starters after a terrible defensive first quarter and it was the second unit that got them back in the game. Their production — 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists — was solid, but it was their defensive energy that ultimately was more important. Marquis Daniels was the ringleader with 10 points.

The Beast is back (Part V): Just in case there was any doubt, Kendrick Perkins is back, and maybe better than ever. Perkins re-joined the starting lineup with Shaquille O’Neal out with an Achilles injury and responded with his first double-double.  Perkins had 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes and finished what he started. It may have happened sooner than Rivers anticipated, but there’s nothing holding Perkins back now.

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Game 49: Mavericks at Celtics at 11:19 am ET
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The Dallas Mavericks have been doing this for a long time. They have been a playoff team every year for the last decade, the second-longest current streak after San Antonio. Their run coincided with the emerge of Dirk Nowitzki as a big-time player and over the years he has remained the one constant.

Steve Nash gave way to Jason Kidd. Michael Finley and Josh Howard were eventually replaced by Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Through it all, Nowitzki has remained, and despite his MVP season, he remains one of the NBA’s underappreciated superstars.

Nowitzki is having another phenomenal season, perhaps his best since his MVP days. His impact can be seen through his +/- numbers where the Mavericks are more than 22 points better with him on the floor, the highest margin in the league, according to Basketball Value. His impact was even more obvious when he missed nine games and the Mavs went 2-7 during that stretch.

They have since won seven of their last eight and are re-establishing themselves as one of the Western Conference’s prime contenders along with the Spurs and Lakers.

“You can make a strong argument for him for MVP,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Him and Derrick Rose and LeBron [James]. He’s having a heck of a year.”

As great as Nowitzki has been, the biggest change has come from the Mavs’ never-ending search for the right complimentary players to put around him. That would be Tyson Chandler.

“He’s the biggest change on their team,” Rivers said. “Chandler has made them a defensive team. They have an anchor now. Just think, they have [Brendan] Haywood coming off the bench. That’s a big, deep basketball team.”

Chandler gives them 10 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 66 percent from the floor on a limited arsenal of dunks and put-backs. But it’s his defensive presence that has been the biggest factor, especially in their zone defense.

The Mavs are ninth in defensive rating, up from 12th the season before and 17th the year before that. Additionally, they only give up 20 shots a game at the rim — the second lowest total in the league after Orlando where Dwight Howard patrols the paint.

This may be the same old Nowitzki, but it’s not the same old Mavs.

MAVERICKS (33-15, 7-3 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.1 (Points scored per 100 possessions, 11th)

Defensive Rating: 104.8 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 90.2 (Possessions per game, 23rd)

Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Dirk Nowitzki, Brian Cardinal, Tyson Chandler

Injuries: Caron Butler (Knee, out), Roddy Beaubois (Foot, out), Peja Stojakovic (Knee, out)

CELTICS (37-11, 8-2 LAST 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.1 (12th)

Defensive Rating: 100.1 (2nd)

Pace: 90.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, TBD

Injuries: Shaquille O’Neal (Hip, Achilles, Questionable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out) Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics at Mavericks 11.08.10 at 10:11 am ET
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braddavisIn 2006, the Dallas Mavericks reached the NBA finals. In 2007, they won 67 games and had the league’s MVP in Dirk Nowitzki. Those two seasons were the best in the 30-year history of the franchise and both ended in massive disappointment. The Mavs lost the finals despite winning the first two games of the series and they lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors the following season in what still ranks as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport.

Since then the Mavericks have been good, winning over 50 games each season, but never great. Their best player is 32, their point guard is 37 and six of their eight rotation players are over 30.

They’ll be good again this year. Nowitzki and Jason Kidd can still play and Jason Terry can still score, but their success ultimately depends on whether the rest of the supporting cast can regain some of its past glory.

In the past year-plus, the Mavs have acquired Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion. All four have seen better days, but how much they have left holds the key to the Mavs season because their best young player, Roddy Beaubois, had a pin inserted into his broken foot and is out indefinitely.

The Mavericks are still formidable and as the second night of yet another back-to-back, they pose a serious challenge for the Celtics. The C’s have won five straight, including an impressive win over the Thunder Sunday night. This is also their fifth game in seven nights before they get a two-day break and a return date with the Heat on Thursday.

celtics_logoCELTICS (6-1)

OFFENSIVE RATING: 105.4 (NBA rank: 17th)

DEFENSIVE RATING: 98.8 (3rd)

PACE: 91.6 (24th)

Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal

Injuries: Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out), Avery Bradley (Ankle, out), Shaquille O’Neal (Shin, questionable)

mavs_logoMAVERICKS (3-2)

OFFENSIVE RATING: 104.0 (20th)

DEFENSIVE RATING: 99.7 (5th)

PACE: 93.0 (20th)

Probable Starters: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Caron Butler, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler

Injuries: Roddy Beaubois (Foot, out)

KEY MATCHUP: Kevin Garnett vs. Dirk Nowitzki

Of all the matchups Garnett has had throughout his career, Nowitzki has to rank alongside Tim Duncan as one of the best. Their styles are a perfect compliment to each other because few big men have ever defended the perimeter better than Garnett. Nowitzki is still a fantastic player, averaging over 25 points and 9 rebounds early in the season.

KEY NUMBER: Celtics field goal percentage

The Mavs have held teams to just 39 percent shooting in their five games. The Celtics rank near the top of the NBA at 49 percent. If they can shoot somewhere in the middle — 45 percent or better — they’ll have a good chance at getting out Dallas with a win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

In addition to Nowitzki and Garnett, the Rajon Rondo-Jason Kidd matchup is always good theater and there’s no telling how many miles Ray Allen and Jason Terry will run chasing each over all the court. This is another big test for the Celtics who are slowly building momentum. The Heat await on Thursday, but this is a solid bout before the main event.

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Fast Break: Celtics-Mavericks 03.20.10 at 10:33 pm ET
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Paul Pierce scored 29 points to lead the Celtics to victory against the Mavericks. (AP)

Paul Pierce scored 29 points to lead the Celtics to victory against the Mavericks. (AP)

The last time the Celtics played the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki scored 37 points and had Rasheed Wallace vowing “retribution.” For three quarters the Celtics held Nowitzki in check, but in the final 12 minutes the most under-appreciated superstar in the NBA began to get rolling.

Nowitzki shot the Mavs back into the game — and a seven-point fourth quarter lead — and the Celtics knew that if they were going to steal another one on the road, they would have to stop him to do it.

Kevin Garnett drew the assignment down the stretch, but he was not alone. Wherever Nowitzki went, help followed. The Celtics allowed open jump shots to whomever wanted one, but wouldn’t let Nowitzki breathe. While he finished with 28 points, the Celtics held him to just one field goal in the final five minutes.

The Celtics did escape with a 102-93 win in Dallas (recap) against a Mavs team that had been 14-2 since acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. In doing so they not only completed the sweep of the back-to-back, they also capped off a sweep of the Texas triangle after beating Houston Friday night and San Antonio earlier in the year.

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo combined for 70 points on 26-for-45 shooting, 16 rebounds and 14 assists. It was the Celtics’ fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games. It was also their most significant win since beating the Lakers and Portland back-to-back in February.

Retribution? Maybe not, but it was certainly a satisfying win for the Celtics.

Player of the Game: Paul Pierce scored 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, but it was his last points that were the most important. With the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead, Pierce drained a 3-pointer from the top of they key. He then came up with a steal on the other end and found Rajon Rondo for an easy layup and a 99-93 lead. It was Pierce’s third straight game where he has scored more than 20 points.

Turning Point: After J.J. Barea sank a 3-pointer to put Dallas ahead, 82-75, the Celtics looked like they might be in trouble. But Ray Allen came back and hit a 20-footer and then a long 3-pointer to get the C’s back within two, 84-82. The Mavs are a notorious second-half team and looked like they were about to make one of their patented fourth-quarter runs before Allen’s big shots.

* The C’s opened up a 60-52 lead with a 12-5 run to start the second half, but the Mavericks rallied, highlighted by an emphatic dunk by Caron Butler on Kendrick Perkins.

* Both teams got off to a slow start as the Celtics missed their first five shots and the Mavs missed five of their first six. But things picked up quickly after that and the Celtics took a 30-24 lead after one quarter.

* Jason Terry scored 14 points in the first half. The Mavericks bench completely outplayed the Celtics reserves.

* The teams combined for 26 free throws in the first half.

* Garnett had a strange stat line in the first half when he had eight rebounds and five steals to go with just two points. Garnett missed all four shots that he took, but he appeared to be moving well.

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Halftime: Celtics-Mavs at 9:09 pm ET
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At the half, the Celtics have a 48-47 lead in Dallas.

Paul Pierce leads the Celtics with 12 points, while Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen each have eight.In the strangest stat line from the first half, Kevin Garnett is 0-for-4 from the floor, but has seven rebound and five steals.

Both teams got off to a slow start as the Celtics missed their first five shots and the Mavs missed five of their first six. But things picked up quickly after that and the Celtics took a 30-24 lead after one quarter.

Pierce scored 10 points in the quarter, but the biggest difference was at the free throw line where the Celtics made 12-of-13 shots and were plus-eight at the line compared to Dallas. The Mavs got up 23 shots in the first quarter, but shot only 43 percent.

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Sheed: League doesn’t like tough D on Dirk 01.18.10 at 11:52 pm ET
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Rasheed Wallace felt he had plenty to complain about Monday night during the Celtics' loss to the Mavericks. (AP)

Rasheed Wallace felt he had plenty to complain about Monday night during the Celtics' loss to the Mavericks. (AP)

Dirk Nowitzki — with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting from the floor — had a great game. Rasheed Wallace thinks he had a whole lot of help from the officiating crew of Tony Brown, Dan Crawford and John Goble.

Wallace didn’t hold back in expressing his frustration following Monday night’s game about a crucial fourth personal foul called on him with 5:16 remaining in the third quarter and the Celtics holding on to a 63-60 lead.

With Wallace on the bench, Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks on a 15-5 run to close out the third quarter, on their way to a 99-90 win over the Celtics at TD Garden.

“You know, they don’t like no tough defense on him so of course I get a whole lot of bull[crap] calls but that’s how the story goes,” Wallace said, before adding, “I ain’t worried about it. We’ll see them again. Honestly, I can’t remember which one the fourth foul was, there were so many bogus [calls]. I ain’t worried about it. Like I said, we’ll see them again. We go down there in about a month or so. There’ll be retribution.”

Wallace and the Celtics will have their chance at payback on March 20 when the Celtics visit Dallas.

Wallace also said there was a double-standard when it came to fouls that weren’t called on Paul Pierce.

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Preview: Celtics-Mavericks at 10:30 am ET
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Doc Rivers has a well-deserved reputation as a player’s coach, but that tag is too nebulous to hold any real meaning. Generally a player’s coach is regarded as someone (usually an ex-player) who is in touch with his team’s psyche and doesn’t try to make them bend to his will. A player’s coach allows the team to be the star instead of the system. Just as generally, player’s coaches are praised when things go well for knowing what buttons to push and derided for being too soft when things go poorly. That’s just the nature of the business.

Rivers is hardly soft. He demands a lot of his players and expects them to perform according to the coaching staff’s gameplan. But he rarely airs them out in public, at least not in a way that seems too personal. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have a handle on when to go hard and when to make things light, as in holding a team dunk contest during practice on Saturday. It’s hardly an exact science and Rivers has, at times, taken blame when he felt that he pushed his team too hard in retrospect.

If he has a criticism it’s that he doesn’t incorporate the Celtics younger players into the lineup and give them a fair chance to contribute. It’s impossible to say for sure if Bill Walker, for example, can ever be a part of the rotation because he never gets a real chance to play meaningful minutes. But in Rivers’ defense, he’s not coaching a team for the future. The Celtics are built to win this season. That’s how he will be judged and everything he does needs to be seen through that prism.

That may be unfortunate for Walker and J.R. Giddens at this point in their career, but it makes sense for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Rivers’ job is to get the best out of those players during the time that he has them on his team.

MAVERICKS (26-14, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.3

Points Allowed: 98.1

Differential: +2.2 (12th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.5 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.2 (11th)

Pace: 92.1 (19th)

Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Erick Dampier

Injuries: Eduardo Najera (back), Tim Thomas (Achilles)

CELTICS (27-11, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 93.7

Differential: +6.8 (Second)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.5 (Third)

Pace: 91.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist) Read the rest of this entry »

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