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Boston Celtics fall to Dallas Mavericks in closing moments, 95-92

On the day of Kevin Garnett’s jersey retirement, the Celtics fell just short at home against the Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics took the court to face the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon ahead of a very special occasion for the franchise: the retirement of Kevin Garnett’s #5 jersey. Nearly a year after Garnett’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he returned to the TD Garden to become the 24th player in Celtics history to have their number raised to the rafters.

Perhaps in tribute to the legendary big man, the Celtics and Mavericks played a physical, defense-oriented game of basketball this afternoon. Both teams put on defensive performances among their best of the season, but ultimately, it was Dallas that did just enough to come away with the victory.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 21 points (though on just 7-of-23 shooting from the field), countering 26 points from his young superstar counterpart Luka Dončić. This afternoon, the difference was three-point shooting. Both teams attempted 37 threes for the game, but Dallas found pay dirt on 15 of theirs, while the Celtics only connected on nine.

A hot scoring start for both teams proved to be relatively short-lived. After opening play by combining 29 points in the first six minutes of the game, defense returned to the forefront, and they combined for just nine the rest of the way. Boston’s defense was its typical swarming self, holding the Mavericks well under 40% shooting, but some offensive miscues (four first quarter turnovers) held the Celtics back from gaining much of an advantage. They entered the second quarter with a 20-18 lead.

The anticipated duel between Tatum and Dončić was nearly cut short early. With just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter, Dončić came up limping after a drive to the basket with an apparent left leg injury. He attempted to remain on the court, but only lasted a couple possessions more before checking out of the game and proceeding directly into the locker room. He ultimately appeared to avoid significant injury, and returned to the game on his usual substitution pattern in the second quarter.

As the Celtics’ star has risen since the start of the new year, so too has the Mavericks’. The two teams entered the game with identical records since the start of January and, notably, the two best defenses in basketball, as well. Those defenses ruled the day for much of the first half, paying homage to the Big Ticket by putting the clamps on one another in an incredibly low-scoring affair in the early going.

Late in the first half, the Celtics finally found a spark. They strung together a few successful offensive possessions to build some momentum, before Brown threw down a massive one-handed slam that brought the TD Garden crowd to its feet. A pair of Tatum buckets later, and the Celtics were suddenly enjoying an abrupt nine-point lead. That lead would hold through the end of the half, and the Celtics entered the break with a 47-38 lead.

The Mavericks made some inroads on the Boston lead as the second half began. Although visibly hampered by his first half injury, Dončić began to take control of the proceedings. The Mavericks went on a 24-8 run in just a five-minute span midway through the third quarter to regain the lead after having trailed by as many as 13 points just a few minutes earlier. The Celtics staunched the bleeding somewhat in the final minutes of the third, but nevertheless entered the final frame trailing 76-73.

Boston regained the driver’s seat with an early 10-2 run, spearheaded by a pair of timely three-pointers from Payton Pritchard. A three from Dončić cut the Celtics’ lead to two, and an extended cold spell ensued, as the two teams spent the next few minutes exchanging bricks and the score remaining stationary until just after the six minute mark.

This was another standout performance from Al Horford, who has looked revitalized in recent weeks as the Celtics have continued to excel. This afternoon, he put on his best Robert Williams impression, stuffing every part of the stat sheet en route to 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks. Arguably his most important bucket came with just under five points to play in the fourth quarter, as he broke an 83-83 tie by finishing through contact for an and-one layup to put the Celtics ahead by three.

Crunch time arrived with the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead, 90-89, with just under three minutes to play in regulation. Smart connected on a pair of free throws to push Boston ahead to three, but Dončić answered with a ludicrous step-back three to tie the game with a minute and a half to play. The two teams traded empty possessions, before Spencer Dinwiddie connected on another three to put Dallas ahead by three with nine seconds to play.

Coming out of Ime Udoka’s timeout, the Celtics inbounded to Brown, who kicked the ball back to Marcus Smart for a three-point attempt. The shot was no good, but Dončić was whistled for a shooting foul on the play. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd used his coach’s challenge on the play, and after a video review, the play was overturned.

The Celtics won the ensuing midcourt jump ball, and Udoka called a quick timeout to set up one more shot for the Celtics. Tatum’s three-point attempt couldn’t find the bottom of the net, and the Mavericks walked away victorious.

Next up, the Celtics will make another national TV appearance, travelling to the west coast for a Wednesday night battle against the Golden State Warriors at 10 PM EST on ESPN.

For more postgame coverage of Boston’s hard-fought loss against Dallas, tune into the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown.