There were ups (as much as a 14-point first half lead), and there were downs, but to understand this game, all you need to experience were the final 4:08.
Boston jumped to a six-point lead with a 9-0 run capped by assist number 15 from Rajon Rondo on an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett. Dallas responded with a 6-0 push of its own, leaving Dirk Nowitzki to tie the game at 80 with those four minutes and eight seconds remaining.
Stepping out from a drought imposed upon them by the Dallas defense, Boston got their first basket in over four minutes on a Rondo break and finish, compounded by a poor judgment foul from Jason Terry (though he'd later redeem himself for the mental error). The Celtics took the lead: 83-80.
In a game where offense often seemed strangled and fighting for air, three points felt like it could be a large hill for either team to crawl up … at least for any team without Dirk.
Nowitzki led all scorers with 25 points and seven rebounds.
On their next possession, Dirk did what he did often on this night: he abused Kevin Garnett's defense by attacking the paint. Moving with power and purpose to his right, Nowitzki was around Garnett and finishing at the rim, but Boston was still up one: 83-82.
A quick jumper from Rondo, followed by a Kidd turnover (a sickening No. 19 for the Mavs) on an attempt to get the ball into Tyson Chandler, who was outstanding in this game, and thoughts of recent late-game collapses rose.
This was followed by a Paul Pierce jumper that left only two minutes on the clock, and the Mavs down five: 87-82.
Where three points felt almost insurmountable to overcome, five danced into the realm of fantasy … a fantasy dominated by Dirk on one end of the court and Tyson Chandler/Shawn Marion on the other.
Down five, Dirk again went right at Garnett. This time he pushed through a thicket of contact to go quickly, forcefully left and finish at the rim to cut the lead back to three.
When Pierce tried to respond, as he has so often, it was Tyson Chandler he found waiting for him … and Chandler tipping his shot away.
A moment later, it was Kidd finding Jason Terry open behind the arc … where he coldly drilled the 3-point shot and tied the game at 87.
Once again, it was Chandler awaiting the Celtics at the other end of the court. When Pierce craftily got around Kidd with an up-and-under, Chandler was high in the air above him, leaving Pierce no choice but to pass to Garnett standing to the side of the rim … where Chandler was instantly again waiting above to alter his shot and cause a point-blank miss.
Back down the court, having laid the groundwork with his forays into the paint, Dirk began the pure motion of his jumper … and put the final offensive touch (the one-legged Euro lean-back!) on a game the Mavs simply willed themselves to win. Mavs up two: 89-87.
Yet, this was not a game to be won with offense. There were 17.4 seconds on the clock, and the Celtics would have their chance.
Though it may have been a lapse, it was Rondo who first found himself wide open to hesitantly attempt a 3-point shot … that missed to the right.
When Ray Allen grabbed the offensive rebound, Terry made up for his earlier mental lapse and took the foul Dallas had to give with only 1.5 seconds remaining, a smart play in a key moment.
With a timeout to design their play, and about eight seconds to get the ball in, Garnett caught the ball and the two towers of Chandler and Dirk's outstretched hands in his face and contesting his shot … leaving it to fall well short, and seal the Mavs victory.
This was a game the Mavs took late with plays at both ends of the court. Dirk led the offense, Chandler the defense. And, the Mavs fought their way to a win.
*Tyson Chandler had the best game of his young Dallas career. He finished with 12 points (5-of-5 shooting), 13 rebounds (including three on the offensive glass), two blocks, one steal and zero turnovers.
His energy and defensive presence caused more than a handful of misses the statistics don't account for.
On offense, the stats again fail to capture his complete impact. Beyond three alley-oops thrown by three different players (Dirk, Terry and Kidd), the mere threat created space for others … including on one of the biggest plays of the game.
Before Jason Terry could take the three that tied the game at 87, it was his defender, Ray Allen, sinking in to help defend against the chance of a pass in to Chandler. Sometimes the threat is enough to change games.
*DeShawn Stevenson got the start at shooting guard, and had a solid performance. Beyond his usual tough defense (Ray Allen didn't score his first field goal until the second quarter when Stevenson finally gave him a LOT of space … because DeShawn was resting on the bench), he also hit two of his first 3-point shot attempts.
DeShawn finished the game with six points and two blocks.
*With Stevenson getting the start and Terry moving back to the bench, Dominique Jones found himself as the odd man out … collecting a DNP-CD. Fish predicted DoJo might see some action in this game. Fish had the right idea (a muscular 2-guard with defensive skills to combat the Celtics backcourt) ... he just picked the wrong muscle.
*Barea had what was easily his best game of this young season. He finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor. As a scorer, he was a difference-maker. On the whole, you must give him credit for a solid game.
Unfortunately, as he dished three assists, he countered them with three turnovers. A point guard must maintain a better assist-to-turnover ration than 1/1.
*Speaking of Barea, you must also commend the performance of the bench as a group in this game as they flipped the early plus/minus results. Every bench player was a plus: Shawn Marion (+10), Terry (+5), Barea (+3) and Brendan Haywood (+3).
Dirk (+4) was the only starter to avoid the negative side of the plus/minus stat on this night.
Marion was huge all night, which is strange to say about a player who only scored two points. But, he was constantly contesting and altering shots and active on the boards. For the game, Marion finished with two points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Haywood's 15 minutes of action were highlighted by a powerful dunk thrown down through the tangled arms of several Celtic players, as well as a display of nice hands on another cut and finish.
Terry returned to the bench, and played well. Other than the clutch three to tie the game, he totaled 17 points (behind only Dirk's point total), four assists (second only to Kidd's ten), three rebounds and a block.
Again, Barea was strong when he was making shots or attacking the rim.
*With Marion's strong play, and another poor shooting performance (5-of-13) Caron Butler did not play in the fourth quarter. Butler is only shooting 39 percent for the season and has been visibly frustrated with himself after some of his misses.
He has also begun to turn the ball over far too frequently, particularly with traveling calls.
While he has managed to find ways to impact games in other ways, he must start to score more efficiently for this team to be at its best.
He finished with 11 points, one rebound, two steals, one block and three turnovers.
But we're being picky. Dallas avoided losing a third straight at home, and did it against a team that uses physicality and defense as its hallmarks. This time, those were Mavericks hallmarks.