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MAVERICKS 113, CELTICS 94

Celtics get crossed up

Defensive strategy backfires as Mavericks win in rout

DALLAS -- Doc Rivers doesn't sleep much, though it has nothing to do with the Celtics' recent defensive struggles. It's more force of habit. Extra-late nights give Rivers time to add wrinkles to the Boston game plan and to worry about scorers like Dallas's Dirk Nowitzki.

Sometimes he has too much time to think, as he apparently did before the Celtics met the Mavericks last night. Rivers decided to switch the pick-and-roll coverage Boston practiced for nearly two hours Monday and again at shootaround yesterday morning. That change, coupled with an unhealthy fixation on Nowitzki, met with disastrous results.

After leading by as many as 21 points in the first quarter and 28 in the second, the Mavericks coasted to a 113-94 victory at American Airlines Center. Rivers blamed overcoaching, though lopsided statistics suggested that one man couldn't possibly be responsible for the embarrassment that passed as an NBA game.

Most of the damage took place in the first half, when the Mavericks shot 65 percent and posted 73 points, Nowitzki scored 20 of his game-high 29 points, Jason Terry recorded 12 of his season-high 14 assists, and the Celtics could do nothing right.

"We played [expletive] and it was my fault," said Rivers. "I really thought I screwed them up. Honest to God. We worked all day on the pick-and-roll coverage that we're going to play all the time. And right before the game, I decided to change the pick-and-roll coverage and I thought it threw our team into flux.

"I was coaching too much in the beginning of the game and I really thought it hurt the team because they didn't have any confidence in what we were doing. It was a gamble and it was a bad gamble."

Meanwhile, Dallas coach Don Nelson challenged the Mavericks before the game, and like Rivers, he shouldered the blame for his team's recent struggles. The Mavericks' play of late has made Nelson angry, and he saw this stretch of five home games that started last night as an opportunity to build momentum. He wanted the Mavericks to play better at home, rely less on Nowitzki offensively, and move the ball more.

"I chose not to use excuses," said Nelson before the game. "It's up to me to get them to play to their potential. So I'll put the onus on me. That's why I've been angry at them. They need to respond to me and they need to respond to the situation. We've got to start winning at home. Real simple."

The Mavericks did more than respond to Nelson. They made a statement in the first half by taking a 73-49 lead. With a 14-4 run midway through the first quarter, the Mavericks were well on their way to a rout. They finished the opening period ahead, 41-20.

The Celtics' body language seemed to suggest they already had given up, and nothing that happened in the second quarter did anything to dispel that theory.

While Boston briefly cut the deficit to 12 (52-40) with a 6-0 run, Dallas responded with a 16-0 spurt. That run, which featured a variety of scorers, would prove to be decisive.

Recognizing the situation was hopeless, Rivers rested his starters and key reserves for most of the fourth quarter. He wanted to give Boston a better chance at picking up at least one win on this three-game trip, which ends tonight in Memphis.

"We had trouble with our pick-and-roll defense and our matchups," said Paul Pierce (17 points). "They really put you in a bind with Nowitzki at the power forward because he's really like a guard. He's a tough guard. You get confused when he sets pick-and-rolls. We had trouble with it in the first half, and that was why we got behind so much."

The Celtics had a chance (if you could call it that) to make the game competitive in the third, staging a 17-2 run that brought them within 11 (84-73). Gary Payton hit an 18-footer to cap the run with 3:40 remaining. As Payton put it, Boston "just played basketball" during the stretch. But the Celtics would come no closer. Dallas closed the third with a 7-0 run, then coasted to victory.

The Celtics learned the hard way that practice does not always make perfect, or at least one practice after a weeklong break from workouts. With another game tonight, Rivers and the players don't plan to dwell on the loss. A quick turnaround and lack of preparation time actually may work to their advantage.

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