Another game, another slow start for the 2021 Boston Celtics.
The Celtics continued their seven-game homestand on Wednesday, March 31 against the newly-healthy Dallas Mavericks, losing 113-108.
Robert Williams III was ruled out right before game time with a non-COVID-19 related illness, forcing Mo Wagner in the starting lineup in his fourth game as a Celtic. Wagner grabbed rebounds early on, but was called for a moving screen and turned the ball over in the first. He would sit for the majority of the first half, and struggled with turnovers and fouls all game.
Boston’s offense as a unit started sluggishly, but Kemba Walker started off well, scoring Boston’s first two points and assisting a three on the next position, but that was a good start to an overall tough night for Walker, who would finish the game with 22 points on 7-19 shooting and 2-9 shooting from three.
The Celtics struggled to hit their threes, and ran into Kristaps Porzingis in the paint on multiple occasions. Porzingis had all three of his blocks in the first quarter.
The Celtics struggled defensively early, allowing Luka Dončić to score 24 first half points, including 13 in a blowout second quarter. Dallas outscored Boston 34-20 in the pivotal second period. Dončić utilized switches on bigger defenders and his height advantage over smaller defenders, like Walker, to find scoring opportunities.
Evan Fournier started his second game on the parquet much better than his first, hitting his first shot and flashing great help defense with two steals. In his early minutes, Fournier provided the bench unit with a spark.
With the second quarter came more buckets for Boston. Fournier freed himself for a midrange jumper, showing the floor spacing he can create on his own.
Still, Boston was kept at an arm’s length by the Mavericks throughout the second quarter, mainly because of the perimeter defense. Dallas hit 59.9% of their 3-pointers (13-23) in the first half, compared to the Celtics’ 4-24 shooting performance. Dallas consistently found men wide open, while the Celtics settled for deep threes.
With 24 minutes elapsed, Boston faced a near 20-point deficit. The hot Mavericks shooting gave Dallas a 64-45 halftime lead.
Dončić continued his offensive domination in the second half, hitting yet another deep three to push the Dallas lead over 20. Dončić feasted on the outside, hitting even the contested threes. He would finish with seven 3-pointers and 36 points in the victory.
After an early timeout in the third quarter, Boston broke a lengthy 3-pointer drought and scored eight unanswered to stop the 23-point lead from ballooning further.
However, Dallas, which had scored seemingly at will up until the 10-1 Boston run, got right back to scoring, putting Boston in a position where they had to play perfect basketball to win. As Dallas kept hitting threes, Boston was barely able to cut into the big halftime lead, trailing 90-73.
Good finishing and passing from Walker gave Boston a glimmer of hope in the fourth. After an and-one layup which cut the lead to single digits for the first time since the 2nd quarter, Boston had nine minutes to get their first win of a lengthy homestand.
The home crowd began shifting from a chorus of boos to an eruption of applause as the Celtics fought back into the game, the culmination of the energy being when Dončić was called for a technical foul for arguing. A 10-2 run had the Celtics down only seven, but yet another Dallas three from Dorian Finney-Smith halted the momentum.
As the fourth quarter slowed down, Boston was holding the Dallas offense in check without Dončić on the floor, but the Celtics could not break through offensively, and Dallas was able to hold onto a sizable lead without Dončić or Porzingis on the floor.
During the final four minutes, “winning time,” the small-ball unit of Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Fournier and Tatum saw some success, keeping pace with the Mavs lineup which also went small, keeping Porzingis on the bench.
But, the large lead once again proved too much to overcome in an all-too-familiar game script for Boston. Dončić hit 2-3 free throws up six, giving Dallas an eight-point lead with 56 seconds remaining.
A Walker three and a Smart tip-in put Boston in a similar position to the end of their first game in Milwaukee, where after battling back from a large lead, the team eventually fell just short in the end.
Jalen Brunson hit both free throws to put the game, once again, right out of Boston’s reach. Smart missed the rim on an intentional missed second free throw, which put what had turned into a game of near-comebacks away for Dallas, 113-108.