After falling behind by as many as 31 points in the first half, the Celtics staggered into the locker room down 67-41 against Dallas on Monday night looking like they’d be routed for the second straight game in Texas.
But a tremendous step was taken in the second half as the Celts scored 72 points and roared back to within one before ultimately succumbing to the Mavs by a score of 118-113. Marcus Smart arrived as a legit NBA player and the Celtics’ three-guard attack with Jeff Green (35 points, 14-for-28 from the floor) at the 4 proved to be a combination that can get results.
Smart took over in the fourth quarter as the Celts made their run. His numbers look pedestrian (seven points, six rebounds, three assists) but he made multiple big defensive plays, hit a huge three-pointer and submitted one of the plays of the year in just the season’s third game.
Together with Rondo, who flirted with a triple-double with seven points, nine rebounds and 15 assists, and Avery Bradley, who scored a career-high 32 points, the Celtics showed the best look they can throw at opponents this season — the best, most dynamic lineup they have.
The issue in the first half — and one that will plague the C’s all year — is their complete lack of weaponry in the paint on defense. The Mavericks’ starting frontcourt combined to open the game 13-for-13. That’s… um… not a very good reflection on your defense. And given how ill equipped they are to handle big time frontcourt players, they’re going to need their perimeter defense to rescue them.
In the second half on Monday, that’s what happened. Smart was an absolute bulldog, even guarding Dirk Nowitzki at times. Bradley corroborated all the talk that he’s a difference making defender. And Rondo threw in four steals while overseeing the entire operation. If the Celtics can control the action around the arc on that end of the court on a consistent basis, it will take a huge weight off the shoulders of Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller. Those guys are all solid players. But against the likes of Dirk, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler, they’re simply overmatched.
The Celts have to stop falling behind so far in the first half. That’s the biggest reason they ultimately lost this game. But they showed that they will not stop fighting with their top three guards leading the way.