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Brad Stevens: ‘I thought we were awful defensively’ against the Dallas Mavericks

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The Celtics head coach was far from happy with how the defense performed in a win against one of the league’s best offenses.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, the Boston Celtics defense had a solid performance in getting back into the win column Wednesday night when it went on the road and defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 109-103.

Against one of the NBA’s best offenses, albeit without MVP candidate Luka Doncic, the C’s held the Mavs to 39.1 percent shooting from the field, which is below their average. Boston also allowed just an 18-point third quarter and limited Dallas to a 15-for-43 (34.9 percent) showing from beyond the arc.

But Celtics coach Brad Stevens was far from impressed and basically crumpled up that paper and the statistics and threw it right in the trash.

“I thought we were awful defensively,” Stevens said. “They missed a lot of open shots. We played it well enough to win but not as good as we need to to be a really good team. We had moments late where we strung together some stops, but we have to be much more committed to being better on that end of the floor.”

The shorthanded Celtics certainly miss their defensive anchor in Marcus Smart, who was sidelined for a fourth consecutive game due to an eye infection, which is a factor in the defensive lapses that has drawn the ire of Stevens.

Seth Curry made a dent in the C’s defense by coming off the bench and connected on 8-of-13 shots from the field along with a 50 percent showing from behind the arc to keep Dallas in it until the end. The Celtics with their lack of size still struggle against opposing big men and at times it felt like Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, could get anything he wanted at the basket, but for some reason the 7-foot-3 force settled on taking 3-pointers to bail out the Celtics.

Daniel Theis has shown tremendous improvement as a shot blocker, but he routinely gets in foul trouble and Enes Kanter is an adept rebounder, but continually gets exposed on the defensive end, especially in the pick-and-roll.

With Boston’s lack of depth at center with Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier out with injuries, underzied rookie Grant Williams stepped up in 24 minutes to help snap Boston’s short two-game losing skid. While Grant Williams is still prone to making rookie mistakes, his high effort and basketball IQ make him a solid defender.

The first video shows one of his defensive mistakes when he collapses into the paint too far and leaves Dorian Finney-Smith wide open for a corner three.

But Grant Williams also displayed his defensive versatility late in the third quarter when he switched onto Delon Wright and cut off the guard’s drive to the basket before switching again, this time to defend Justin Jackson and forcing an errant shot.

But while there were those defensive flashes, Stevens has his red pen out and sees multiple areas in which the Celtics can improve defensively.

“You can’t leave shooters open the way we leave shooters open,” Stevens said. “Transition needs to get better. Our switching needs to be better. Communication needs to be better. Awful is probably strong. We had some really good possessions. We just didn’t have enough of them that you felt like, ‘OK, we can really stop them from getting a good look right here,’ and they do that to people. They’re a good offense, but we need to play a lot better than we did.”