The Dallas Mavericks’ game plan against the Boston Celtics, at least in the early going, was clear.
They were intent on attacking Boston’s leading scorer Isaiah Thomas as much as possible, whether it be posting up the 5-foot-9 guard or swarming towards him on offense while offering him little room to do much other than pass to his teammates.
It put both Thomas and the Celtics on their heels in the first half which played a pivotal role in Boston’s three-game winning streak coming to an end following a 118-113 overtime loss to the Mavericks.
The Celtics (22-20) have now lost seven straight to the Dallas Mavericks, which equals the longest losing streak Boston has ever had to Dallas.
And a big part of the latest loss was Thomas’ inability to get the Celtics going at the start of the game.
Despite the slow start, Thomas bounced back with a strong second half to finish with 20 points.
But the rhythm that Boston had grown so accustomed to having with Thomas leading the way was not there to start the game.
Credit Marcus Smart for coming off the bench to score 11 of his 20 points in the first quarter which allowed the game not to get too out of hand after Dallas opened play with a 17-2 run.
“It’s real tough when you’re down 15 (points) to start,” said Boston’s Kelly Olynyk who had 17 points off the bench. “Giving teams a 15-point cushion in this league, it’s not easy to come back from that. We made a run, made it close, made a few mistakes at the end. We had an opportunity.”
Boston is no stranger to having to deal with in-game adversity.
But for Thomas to struggle (he missed five of his first six shots) as much as he did was the kind of setback the Celtics frankly, just weren’t used to having to deal for such an extended period of time to start a game.
In Monday’s loss, Thomas had an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of just 74.5.
But the second half saw his rating improve dramatically to 130.6.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens credits Dallas’ defense more than anything else, for Thomas having such a rough start to the game.
“First of all, they did a good job on him,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “Those are big, strong physical guards and that takes a toll on both ends. They posted him (Thomas) a lot. But he was much better in the second (half).”
Thomas’ second half success was a function of both him and his teammates finding their way into the paint with a lot more frequency.
After tallying just 14 points in the paint in the first half, Boston had 20 points in the third quarter alone.
The Celtics were a much more aggressive in getting into the lane, Thomas included.
But it ultimately wasn’t enough to get the win and serves as yet another reminder of what happens when the Celtics are not the aggressors at the outset of a game.
“When we settle, when we don’t at least feed the paint or (have) threats in the paint, we’re in trouble,” Stevens said.