Celtics

Celtics fall to Mavs, 90-85, drop below .500

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Celtics fall to Mavs, 90-85, drop below .500

BOSTON Four days with nothing but rest and reps for the Boston Celtics didn't produce the kind of start they were hoping for against the Dallas Mavericks.

The finish was better, but it wasn't enough as the battle for better-than-average status was won by Dallas, 90-85.

Rajon Rondo finished with 24 points and seven assists in the losing effort.

After a 3-pointer from Paul Pierce tied the game at 85, Dirk Nowitzki scored while being fouled with 5.1 seconds to play.

Nowitzki, who had 16 points, made the free throw which put the Mavericks ahead 88-85.

Following a Celtics time-out, Boston turned the ball over on the in-bounds, which all but sealed the victory for Dallas.

The victory put the Mavericks (6-5) above .500 for the first time this season, and dropped the C's (4-5) below .500.

After falling behind 10-2 and trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half, Boston took its first lead early in the third quarter on a Ray Allen jumper.

A Jermaine O'Neal jumper - seriously, he took a shot and made it - soon came, and that was followed by a pair of Allen technical foul free throws after Mavericks coach and former Celtic Rick Carlisle was ejected.

But the C's momentum didn't last long.

Boston led by five points, only for the Mavs to counter with a 21-6 run to go back on top by double digits.

The Celtics got off to a nice start to the first, but their Achilles heel - rebounding - once again proved to be problematic.

Trailing 68-64, they forced a miss only to have Dirk Nowitzki out-work Kevin Garnett for the loose ball. Moments later, Nowitzki beat Garnett off the dribble for a lay-up.

Boston continued to battle, but the frustration of not being able to get over the hump began to set in as Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers were each whistled for a technical foul in the fourth - a no-no, according to Rivers.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”