Riding back-to-back wins over Utah and Orlando, the Dallas Mavericks were looking to make it three straight against an incredibly hot Boston Celtics team that currently sits with the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston, who had won nine of its last 10 games coming into Monday night’s matchup behind the red-hot Isaiah Thomas, were looking to make a statement of their own, though ... and they did so, holding off a Mavs second-half comeback bid to win 111-98 at the American Airlines Center.
The Mavs, coach Rick Carlisle said, were "tantalizingly close.''
After trailing by double-digits in the first half, the Mavs got within one point early in the fourth quarter, but were unable to sustain the momentum. After that point, Boston outscored Dallas 28-15, thanks to a sizzling fourth quarter by Thomas, who finished the game with 29 points and eight assists on 9-of-19 shooting.
DFW product Marcus Smart supplemented the Boston scoring attack with 19 points, while Kelly Olynyk added 15 off the bench, and former Mavs forward Jae Crowder added 10 points of his own.
As a team Boston shot 49.4 percent from the field, and hit 16-of-34 from beyond the arc, while going 15-of-18 from the line. Boston also outscored Dallas 38-28 in the paint, and won the battle on the boards 41-37.
For Dallas, the three-point shot was hard to come by for a good portion of the game, as the Mavs finished 9-of-27 from beyond the arc, and 45.5 percent from the field overall. They were also inconsistent from the line, going 19-of-25 for the game.
While the Mavs did get some production from their usual standouts, the loss of Deron Williams (to an ejection after 13 minutes of play), as well as their inability to check MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas, proved to be too great of an obstacle to overcome.
Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews both scored 18 points for Dallas, but shot a combined 12-of-29 from the floor, and 2-of-5 from three. Harrison Barnes also added 19 points, while Yogi Ferrell ended the game as the Mavs’ leading scorer with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, to go along with five assists in 33 minutes.
One bright spot for Dallas was the play of Salah Mejri, who for the second straight game, continued to do a bang-up job for Dallas on the boards. After a 15-rebound outing against the Magic on Saturday, Mejri ended up with 10 boards, and a myriad of solid hustle plays throughout the game. ... though Carlisle did chastise him publicly after the game for a couple of defensive lapses.
Rick's overall evaluation?
The Celtics have "a legitimate chance to get to the Finals with that team out of the East. It’s a very good basketball team, so when you’re playing a team of that level, you just gotta be on it from the very beginning ... I just don’t think we were, and I thought that was the big difference.”
Some of that is the result of Dallas' limitations, of what Carlisle himself humorously termed an "underrated s--t team.'' It's part of the reality of being 22-33 ... so much so that Mavs legend/TV analyst Derek Harper let the thought pass his lips ... twice.
Next on the docket for the Mavs is a road trip to the Palace of Auburn Hills, where they will take on the 26-30 Pistons for the second time this season. In their previous matchup, the Pistons defeated Dallas 95-85 behind 20 points from Reggie Jackson, as well as a dominant 16-rebound performance by Andre Drummond. The Pistons will be the Mavs' final contest before the All-Star Break, as Dallas turns its attention to trade-deadline "opportunism,'' as owner Mark Cuban tells DB.com here.