CELTICS 105, MAVERICKS 103
Celtics walk away winners at buzzer
The stage was set for the perfect dramatic conclusion. Returning to the FleetCenter for the first time since a trade sent him to Dallas Oct. 20, Antoine Walker held the opportunity to win the game with less than a second remaining. All the hype and controversy that preceded the homecoming paled in comparison to what hung in the balance with one shot last night.
Guarded by Vin Baker on the right side of the arc, Walker hoisted a 3-pointer. It was precisely the type of shot that had won so many games and caused so much criticism during the seven years Walker played for the Celtics. Once Walker sent the shot into the air, everyone in the soldout FleetCenter, from the fans to the Boston bench to the Dallas coaches, followed its trajectory. The shot barely scraped the right side of the rim. Everyone rooting for the Celtics exhaled. Game over. The Celtics defeated the Mavericks, 105-103, as the game overshadowed the return of Walker and the arrival of Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart.
When asked what he thought when Walker launched his final 3-pointer, Paul Pierce said, "I was like, `Oh hell, no. Don't come into this building and hit this.' Because I know I wouldn't have heard the end of it.
"I kind of had an out-of-body experience. I was praying to God he wasn't going to hit that shot because I knew he was going to bring out the wiggle."
After receiving a standing ovation during player introductions, Walker was clearly disappointed with the way the game ended.
"We all live for that kind of shot," said Walker (7 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists). "I had a good look but I came up short."
Pierce was the one who came through with the eventual winner. And there was no shortage of drama on that attempt either. After experiencing some difficulty with the inbounds pass after a timeout, the Celtics finally got the ball into play. Pierce found himself open right in front of the Mavericks' bench. He went up for an 18-footer, over the outstretched arms of Walker. The basket pushed Boston ahead for good, 104-103, with 20.9 seconds remaining.
"It was a lot of fun just getting back on the court with [Walker], talking to him back and forth," said Pierce (25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists). "He's a hell of a competitor. It's been so fun playing with him.
"You couldn't ask for a better script, to knock a game-winning shot over Antoine Walker. A storybook ending. I like it. He's not going to hear the end of it. As a matter of fact, I'm going to get me a condo in [Walker's hometown of] Chicago this summer."
With 2:15 remaining, a 3-pointer by starting center Walter McCarty brought Boston within 1 point 98-97. Then, Mike James scored on a fast-break layup to give the Celtics their first lead, 99-98, since the opening minutes. A pair of free throws by Antawn Jamison pushed Dallas back in front with 1:02 remaining. Then, McCarty and Steve Nash traded 3-pointers and Dallas established a 103-102 edge as the final 30 seconds ticked down.
The fact that the Celtics were able to make it a game down the stretch was a testament to their ability to deal with adversity in the first game after a trade that sent defensive leader Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown to the Cavaliers.
Throughout the contest, the Celtics showed resiliency. Never was it more apparent than the fourth quarter, when they came back from a 10-point (87-77) deficit. A 9-2 run that consisted of a pair of 3-pointers and three free throws from Pierce helped Boston close the gap to 89-86 with 9:05 left.
"We talked at halftime," said Celtics coach Jim O'Brien, who earned his first win of his career over a Texas team. "I didn't think we had a real good first-half effort. I just reminded them what wins basketball games for them: a tremendous effort defensively. I said at shootaround today, when the game is over, I don't want you to be able to walk off the court. They walked off the court, but they didn't have much left."
After trailing by as many as 11 and closing to within 1 on a couple of occasions in the second quarter, Boston entered the break behind, 62-56. Newcomer Davis sacrificed his body, and some scoring opportunities, in an effort to fit in. And there were signs that Davis and Pierce might quickly develop some chemistry. The two friends, who spend summers working out in Los Angeles, teamed up for an alley-oop dunk late in the first quarter. The basket knocked the Dallas lead below double digits with 1:27 remaining in the opening quarter. A driving layup by Jiri Welsch, followed by a tip from Baker cut the Mavericks' lead to 29-25 at the end of the first.
But at the start of the second, the Mavericks' potent offense, as well as their ability to get to the line, pushed the visitors back ahead by 11. As Dallas staged a 6-0 run, Davis once again showed his desire to make a good impression, diving onto the scorer's table in pursuit of a loose ball.
Midway through the second, Boston mounted a quick 8-0 run behind 3-pointers from McCarty and James, and an 18-footer from Welsch. Pierce provided the assists for both 3-pointers. The spurt brought Boston within 1 (44-43) with 6:29 left in the second. The Celtics would stay close until the end of the quarter, when the Mavericks pushed their lead back to 9 points (60-51) with a 5-0 run. Dirk Nowitzki accounted for all of the scoring during the spurt.
"We were playing great," said Walker. "We were moving the basketball. We were making shots. They made a run there at the end where they made some easy buckets and they continued to fight. They played a pretty good game. Every time we got an opportune point, they made a run and got it back down in striking distance."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.