Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley returned to Celtics’ lineup Sunday night.
The Celtics’ offense, however, failed to show up.
One of their poorest shooting efforts all season led to a 24-point deficit that they couldn’t overcome in a 102-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Celtics, who fell to 18-34.
After the first three quarters, the Celtics were shooting just 29.9 percent (20 for 67).
“I thought they were active defensively, but I thought their length bothered us at the rim,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “But like in the first half, we missed a couple of corner threes, we missed dunks, we missed layups.”
They missed nearly everything, with just 13 field goals at halftime. His team turned it on late, scoring 35 points in the fourth quarter, but it was too late. The Celtics shot 36 percent overall.
Bradley shot 2 for 13, Jared Sullinger 4 for 13, Kelly Olynyk 2 for 7, and Jerryd Bayless 0 for 4.
“We had great shots, they just weren’t falling,” said Sullinger, who finished with his fifth straight double-double, with 11 points and 12 rebounds. “I thought even my shots were great shots, but they just weren’t falling.”
The Mavericks shot 45 percent and were led by 20 points from Dirk Nowitzki as his team won its season-high fifth straight game.
Jeff Green scored a team-high 18 for the Celtics, and Chris Johnson made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, making the final score closer than the game actually was.
“And maybe I should’ve played Chris Johnson more and earlier, and then we’d feel better about ourselves,” Stevens said. “Because I thought he, obviously, he made some shots late that got us back in it, or not got us back in it but made it reasonable.”
Rondo returned after missing Friday night’s game with what the team described as “general soreness” following Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia.
The Celtics captain continued to show shades of his old self, finishing with 15 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds in 36:33, the most he has played in the nine games he has played this season after sitting out nearly a year following a knee injury.
But after the game, there was little he could reflect on but the negatives.
“Second half, they came out and put it to us,’’ he said. “We couldn’t get stops. We weren’t shooting the ball great the entire night, but at least in the first half we were getting stops. In the second half, they made shot after shot.”
The Mavericks opened the third quarter on a 16-5 run, taking a 60-45 lead with 5:54 left.
In the fourth quarter, Dallas stretched its lead to 20 points, and it grew from there.
“Defensively, we weren’t all on the same page, and they executed their offense well,’’ said Celtics swingman Gerald Wallace. “They put pressure on us, and they played to the rim. And obviously when you get stuff going downhill towards the rim, it kind of forces the defense to sink in and they have shooters who made shots tonight.”
The Celtics have shooters, even if it didn’t look like it Sunday.
Bradley, the Celtics’ other starting guard, was back in action after sitting out Friday after twisting his right ankle Wednesday against Philadelphia. He scored 5 points, not looking quite like his old self. He only played 4:19 in the second half.
“I don’t know if he didn’t feel well or not, I just didn’t think he looked like himself and he was obviously struggling through a shooting night so I just went in another direction,” Stevens said.
“Obviously we believe in Avery, we have great faith in Avery that Avery will continue to be a very good player for us. But tonight I felt like to go in another direction.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.