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Mavericks 99, Celtics 90

Lost in transition

Celtics can’t keep up with Mavericks

Tony Allen’s in-your-face defense prevents Jose Juan Barea from getting a good look. Tony Allen’s in-your-face defense prevents Jose Juan Barea from getting a good look. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 19, 2010

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Injuries, illness, and misfortune have led to many of the Celtics’ early-season home struggles. Last night they were victims of self-inflicted wounds in a 99-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The self-destruction began in the third quarter as Rasheed Wallace got into foul trouble, leaving the Celtics virtually defenseless against Dirk Nowitzki (37 points). Then, after Wallace returned, the Celtics lost direction offensively.

The Celtics (27-12) still have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but they concluded this contest like a team struggling with its identity and desperately awaiting the return of Kevin Garnett.

Though the Celtics have faltered at home - this was their third successive defeat - they started the night strong, leading by 11 points in the opening half. Things appeared to be going the Celtics way as they upped the advantage to 53-41 on a desperation Paul Pierce shot on their first possession of the second half. Both Ray Allen and Pierce lost control of their dribble, but Pierce recovered and launched a set shot that went in with :01 on the shot clock as Nowitzki shook his head in disbelief.

After that, the Mavericks outscored the Celtics, 34-15, on 16-for-20 (80 percent) shooting for the remainder of the quarter.

“The second half, I thought our defense was horrendous,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think we got back at all on defense, they had numbers every single time. We had our guards crashing the glass . . . our bigs complaining to refs . . . they beat us down the floor, and they scored. Then, all of a sudden it became a walk the ball up the court, slow down game on one way. And then, on the other way, they were running back down our throats.

“I thought we had 24 minutes of focus and it’s tough to win a game that way against a quality team.’’

The Celtics (27-12) fell to 11-7 at home. They will try to improve on a 16-5 road record at Detroit tomorrow.

Wallace committed his fourth foul with the Celtics leading, 63-60. The Mavericks closed the quarter with a 15-3 run, the Celtics scoring on only one possession (a Pierce 3-pointer) in the final 4:48. Nowitzki scored 14 points in a 5:08 period spanning the third and final quarters against the defense of Brian Scalabrine and Glen Davis.

“Honestly, I can’t even remember which one the fourth one was, they made so many bogus calls,’’ Wallace said. “But we’ll see them again. It’s hard, a couple instances where Paul went to the basket and got fouled, or whatever, and no calls. We come down and blow on them and it’s a call.

“But it’s part of the game and we have to be mentally tough to fight through that and do what we have to do to try and win the ballgame, I think that’s our main focus. We have to execute on offense and take a good shot and hopefully come back on D. And get our defense set. Teams have a hard time scoring against our set defense. The last three games it’s been transition that’s been killing us.

“Everyone was playing their defensive assignment in the first half, they still hit a couple of buckets, but we made it tough for them. That second half, they just got transition points, knocked a couple threes down. I ain’t worried about it, we’ll see them again.’’

The Celtics closed within 79-75 as Kendrick Perkins scored with 10:10 to play. But Dallas scored 14 successive points in a 3:02 span, Shawn Marion’s free throw upping the advantage to 93-75 with 6:56 left. Pierce scored 24 points, but only 3 in the final 10:47.

“He had 15 points in the first half, but they were tough points,’’ Rivers said of Nowitzki. “My point to the team was, we never went to Rasheed in the third quarter to attack Dirk, who had his fouls. In the first half, the reason Dirk was struggling on offense, he had to guard Rasheed all the first half. He had to guard the post. We decided we wanted to play on the perimeter in the second half. We know better but we didn’t.’’

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