Dallas had been going on about how they're working harder on defense, even when they still look like a run and shoot team. Boston's defense had been getting measurably better, but Paul Pierce has been mired in a shooting slump, alleviated by the emergence of Tony Delk, along with various other Celtics players picking up the pace.
As I saw it, in order to win, Boston had to stop
the quick offense of the Mavericks with dazzling defense while getting
their own offense in high gear. That meant no more settling for the
gentle trots upcourt, meandering peacefully while the opposition defense
sets up while still having time for Tom Heinsohn to paint a picture of
the play--in oils.
The game started auspiciously enough as Battie beat Nowitzki on the tipoff, and Walker took it to the hoop to give the C's the opening lead 2-0. The Mavs showed right off they were serious about their defense. Dirk showed it was going to be a major effort to get any rebounds as long as he was in there. He also made it clear that an increased emphasis on defense wasn't exactly hurting their offensive capabilities.
Tony Delk again proved his offense is really getting in gear, to the point where the C's may need to designate him as the official third option scorer. Maybe second, until Pierce recovers from his slump.
Through the first part of the quarter, the Good Guys stayed right there with Dallas on both ends of the floor. Battie was once again a potent factor on the boards. If he had consistent help from someone besides Eric Williams, then the C's become a rebounding monster. Walker also showed he was shooting well, which was a relief as Pierce still seemed way off with his shot.
While the three wasn't falling for Boston, the C"s were rebounding well, and matching the fast pace set by Dallas through the first half of the quarter. When there was just over 5 minutes to go in the first, Boston held a 17-15 lead as a timeout was called. Both teams were well on their way to a 30 point period.
After the timeout, the C's defense developed a problem--while they were making Dallas work for their shots, too often, Dallas picked up a rebound and scored on the second chance. It wasn't bad D by Boston, it was largely that Nowitzki was just making it hard for ANY Celtics to get the boards.
Offensively, the Celtics slowed down as their outside shots just weren't hitting. While Pierce's problems were obvious, it was everyone having a problem from the arc at times.
Meanwhile, Dirk was having himself a banner night. Dallas was moving the ball fast and accurately in the face of a tough Boston defense. That didn't bode well for Boston.
There was good news, though, as Vin Baker came in and showed he was willing to throw his body into the fray. Baker showed improvement even from the previous game.
The C's--Walker in particular--did not ignore the inside game. The Good Guys did their share of scoring from the foul line. Walker seemed to be actively taking command on the floor, encouraging the other players, and working hard--and smart--himself.
But it was obvious that Dallas had a huge advantage
on the boards with their height. Considering their preference for
scoring 30+ points a quarter, the Celtics were doing well. Dallas
pulled ahead and the quarter ended with Dallas ahead, 25-20.
The quarter began and at first, Walker & Pierce both hit from outside, and things were looking up. The defense also locked down more tightly on Dallas. I was beginning to feel better--at least a little--about the C's chances to win this game.
Walker threw in a nice reverse layup a few minutes in, that had everyone wondering how he did it. But Nowitzki answered right back. It's never good for Boston when Dirk gets hot. The fact is, Boston, to this point,was playing very well. The only problem was that the outside shots just weren't falling. Delk tried hard to convert a nice pass from Pierce, and even THAT wouldn't go.
Walker was the only major offensive weapon Boston had at this point. Dallas was beating the Boston defense by moving the ball fast, and getting second chances off rebounds. The problem is, all the Dallas guys can shoot well. It's suicide to double off on anyone, because they're fast enough to hit the open man with a pass for a relatively easy shot. Meanwhile, they're big enough to play zone defense against Boston.
Vin Baker was also making his presence known under the hoop. He seemed to be getting more smoothly involved on both ends. But the C's as they have since last year, live--or die--by the three. The three wasn't going in tonight, at least not thus far. It was so bad that Dallas was letting them take the open shots from the corner, rather than risk opening a path to the hoop.
The combination that Dallas was throwing at Boston enabled them to keep--and extend--their lead as the first half came to an end, with a score of 50-39.
There was Good, Bad, and Ugly in the first half.
The Good parts were that Boston was making excellent rebounding efforts, Vin Baker was fitting in more smoothly, and Tony Delk is emerging as a strong offensive option. Also, Walker seemed to be once again serving as de facto point guard, and was doing a good job.
The Bad was that the threes weren't falling and Dallas was wreaking havok on the boards, making it impressive that Battie and Williams got as many rebounds as they did. They were also moving the ball VERY well on offense, and Boston was left to guard people one-on-one with far too many mismatches.
The Ugly--hate to say it, Paul Pierce was 1-8 in the first half. I tried to console myself with imagining the New Jersey Nets entire team breaking into a sweat when they hear that. Maybe this would be another such night--at least to the extent that Pierce would start hitting.
The stats were pretty ugly too--Boston only 33% FGP on 17-51 shots vs. Dallas at 41% on 20-49. The threes were favoring Dallas as well, 4-12 vs. 1-12. Dallas outrebounded, 33-28, and the turnovers were even at 4 each through the first half of the game.
If the Good Guys were to have a chance, then Coach O'Brien's defensive mantra notwithstanding, the C's HAD to score more moints consistently, and start passing fast enough to beat the zone.
The C's kept pace with Dallas through the quarter, even outscoring them by 2 points within the quarter, but Boston just couldn't make up any serious ground. Dallas was just playing too efficiently. Walker was trying to shoulder the scoring load, but he wasn't getting the kind of help he really needed.
Late in the quarter, after what was described
as an "animated" (a euphamism for "profane") tirade from a "livid" Walker
during a timeout, the C's came out with fire and started to make a run
on the Mavericks. This brought them within 9 points of Dallas as
the quarter ended with a score of 70-61.
By the start of the fourth quarter, things had improved--however slightly--for Boston. The C's were now shooting 35 %, and picked up 7 rebounds in the third quarter. Their turnovers however, doubled to 8, and Dallas had increased THEIR shooting to 43%.
The game was essentially going to be decided on whether the Celtics could keep the momentum going and somehow slow Dallas down. The good news was that given the normal scoring average for Dallas, the C's weren't doing too badly--were it not that the C's themselves were being held down on points due to a lack of offensive output from Pierce.
The C's gave it their best shot, but Dallas just
kept pulling away. The Celtics kept trying to close the gap, but
nothing worked sufficiently well to make a difference. The game ended
as Dallas kept it's win streak alive, with a final score of 97-86.
The fact is, the Celtics were outplayed by Dallas. While you can justly point at Pierce for his near-total lack of offense, Dallas was playing so well that it's possible that even had Pierce been more on his game that the C's might have lost this.
HEROES AND ZEROS:
Antoine Walker: He did his level best to carry the team when Pierce continued to falter. He shot 50% from the field with the majority of his shots coming inside, and was active on the boards.
Tony Delk: He shot well from inside and outside the arc--in fact was one of only two Celtics to do well from the perimeter. He was active on the boards and had a bunch of assists.
Shammond Williams: The other guy hitting threes well. He also had six assists.
Eric Williams and Tony Battie: I expect them both to rebound a lot--any points they score, I consider a bonus. They did what I expected.
Vin Baker the Rebounder: I liked him getting
inside, and he is finally getting the hang of the Celtics game flow.
Vin Baker the Scorer: He needs to start scoring in double figures.
Paul Pierce: Yes, he had some rebounds and three steals; but frankly, he's there to put up points, and he just didn't do it. If he was shooting even 40% that would have been another dozen or so points right there. He had too many open looks to give all the credit to the Dallas defense.
Celtics free throw shooting: Anything under 80% as a team gets you a zero here unless you're shooting them one handed and blindfolded.
The next game is against Milwaukee.
And that's the view from the doghouse.
Scoring by quarters:
|1st quarter||2nd quarter||3rd quarter||4th quarter||Final|