Streak snapped in Big D
Late lapses on defense cost Celtics
DALLAS — One play was a breakdown by a team built on defense. The other was simply a tough shot by a player paid $20 million a year to take tough shots.
The first play, though, was the backbreaker.
Jason Kidd weaved into the lane, his Mavericks down 3 points to the Celtics after wasting a 14-point lead, when he noticed Jason Terry and his perpetually hot hand wide open on the wing.
Terry could have taken the shot three times, he was so open. Ray Allen had left him to try to keep Kidd from getting to the rim on the drive.
In a game that could have gone either way, the shot Terry buried from 23 feet halted the momentum the Celtics had spent building in the second half. The 3-pointer wasn’t the winner in Dallas’s 89-87 victory last night, which halted the Celtics’ win streak at five. But it tied the score at 87, and gave Terry 17 points.
And when the Celtics thought about it, there was enough blame to go around.
“That was a huge play, and that was our defensive execution,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “We had a breakdown — Ray had no choice, he had to do his job — but the breakdown is what caused the 3. But that happens.’’
Kevin Garnett pointed the finger at himself for not helping.
“I’ve got to show for [Rajon] Rondo,’’ Garnett said. “If I show, [Kidd] bugs out. Who knows what would have happened? But he found Jason Terry in the corner and he made a good shot.’’
Within seconds, Dirk Nowitzki would pull up over Glen Davis for a 16-footer, nailing what would be the decisive shot.
It was a play the Mavs ran all night for their star player, and when they needed a bucket, he cashed in. Nowitzki scored a game-high 25 points, dropping 16 in the second half, when he took advantage of a mismatch caused by nagging injuries. Jer maine O’Neal played 11 minutes in the first half, but his night was cut short by soreness in his left knee, leaving the 6-foot-9-inch Davis to do his best to stop Nowitzki, who at 7 feet could just shoot over him as he pleased.
“It was a good play, they ran it several times,’’ Rivers said. “Kevin switched on it, which left Baby on him. Ray was coming. He just didn’t get there quick enough. We wanted to get the ball out of his hands if we could have.’’
The Celtics saw their five-game winning streak go up in smoke not just because of late lapses, but because of a slow start. They missed 17 of their 25 first-quarter shots and let the Mavs pad the lead in the second quarter.
“You can’t spot a team points in the first quarter,’’ Garnett said. “You’ve got to come out more solid than that.’’
Terry drilled a 3-pointer from the corner opposite the Celtics bench with 6:30 left in the second quarter, drawing a foul on Marquis Daniels and going to the free throw line to turn it into a 4-point play that put the Mavs up, 40-30, putting the Celtics in a double-digit hole for the first time this season.
Dallas took a 50-40 halftime lead on a Celtics team playing its second game in as many nights, poised to deal them their second loss of the season.
At the start of the second half, the Celtics clamped down. Dallas jumpers were missed, drives to the lane turned into collisions with either Davis or Garnett absorbing the impact.
The Celtics used their defense to spark a 17-7 run to start the third quarter, and seemed to take control during a 9-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter, highlighted by Rondo’s lob-turned-dunk to Garnett.
But their defense couldn’t bottle up Nowitzki.
“The vet’s crafty, man,’’ Garnett said. “He’s played against everything — short guys, quicker guys, thicker guys, stronger guys, longer guys. Good offensive players, they have an arsenal of moves.’’
Despite coming off a win in Oklahoma City the night before, Rivers said the only fatigue the Celtics suffered from was “mental fatigue.’’
The Mavs spoiled a 24-point night from Paul Pierce and a 15-assist night by Rondo, who came up empty on a late 3-point attempt.
But after clawing out of the hole they dug for themselves, the Celtics let defensive lapses cost them.
“We’ve got to be a better defensive-executing team,’’ Pierce said. “We can’t give Jason Terry a 3-pointer late when we’re up 3. We give up a 2, fine, we’ve still got the ball. I think it was defensive breakdowns down the stretch.’’