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MAVERICKS 118, CELTICS 113

Celtics can’t complete comeback in Dallas

Jeff Green is fouled by the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki as he drives hard to the hoop in the first quarter on Monday night. Green had 18 points in the first half and 35 in the game.Jeff Miron/USA Today Sports
Mavericks118
Celtics113

DALLAS — The problem Monday at American Airlines Center was that the Celtics didn’t play with passion earlier. For the second consecutive game, they fully accepted an uppercut from a more talented opponent, and staggered to regain their footing for most of the first half.

When the Celtics finally gathered themselves, they turned in a marvelous performance, rallying to cut a 31-point deficit to 1 with 34.5 seconds left before slipping during a couple of key possessions and losing, 118-113, to the Dallas Mavericks.

Avery Bradley had a chance to tie the game after getting fouled by Monta Ellis on a 3-point attempt, but he missed the second of three free throws, and the Mavericks held a 114-113 lead. Ellis then atoned with a streaking layup and Jeff Green (35 points) missed a tying 3-point attempt.

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Following a jump ball, Ellis was fouled by Rajon Rondo and sealed the game with two free throws.

Marcus Smart, the rookie playing 30 miles from his hometown of Flower Mound, was stellar in the fourth quarter, hitting a 3-pointer with 3:37 left to reduce the deficit to 107-104. Celtics coach Brad Stevens played the trio of Bradley, Rondo, and Smart in the fourth quarter and they were disruptive defensively, forcing the Mavericks into seven turnovers in the period.

Bradley had 32 points on 13-for-22 shooting but that missed free throw prevented a historic comeback. Rondo finished with 7 points, 15 assists, and 9 rebounds and Jared Sullinger scored 14, but the Celtics will lament their horrid first half that allowed Dallas to race to a 67-41 halftime lead.

In the past two games, the Celtics have allowed 124 points in the first half.

“Again, it’s not hard to play when you’re down 26,” an irritated Stevens said. “There’s no pressure. It’s very hard to play when you’re up 26 and go into halftime and figure out what to say to keep the team motivated.

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“I don’t want to make this the comeback of all comebacks, either. So I think we played much better, feel much better about how we played. It would have been a sickening feeling to get on the bus after two halves like that, but it doesn’t change that you can’t play like that.”

Chandler Parsons led the Mavericks with 29 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 27 as Dallas shot 63 percent from the floor in the first half compared with 44 in the second half.

The Mavericks have been outscored a combined 135-88 in third periods this season. Coach Rick Carlisle lamented that deficiency before the game, and then watched as the Celtics mounted a furious rally in the third quarter.

The Celtics scored the first 9 points of the period and used a 28-10 run to reduce Dallas’s lead to 77-67. Two things occurred: The Mavericks began missing shots they made in the first half, and the Celtics used ball movement to create easier shots.

The result was a competitive game, a testament to the relentless effort the Celtics have displayed since Stevens took over as coach. They looked disinterested in the first half, but stormed back behind Green and Smart, and cut the gap to single digits with a Sullinger jumper with 6:47 left.

The Celtics were exhausted by then and fell a couple of plays short of a miracle comeback, but the locker room was sullen, having realized a second consecutive poor start cost them a valuable road win.

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“We shot ourselves in the foot the last two games,” Green said. “We took a lot of gas to fight back. We can’t allow teams to be the aggressor the first 12 minutes. That’s what happens. The last two games, Houston and Dallas punched us in the mouth and we came back in the second half. We have to be the aggressor.”

The Celtics spent the second quarter simply trying to recollect their pride after an embarrassing first period in which Dallas scored 40 points. With stellar shooting, the Mavericks stretched their lead to as many as 31 points, conjuring up shades of last season when the Celtics just didn’t compete on some nights.

Dallas converted 10 of its 14 3-pointers in the first 24 minutes, and it wasn’t as if these shots were uncontested. Nowitzki canned a pair with Kelly Olynyk in his jersey. Al-Farouq Aminu, a career 29 percent 3-point shooter, swished a long ball from the corner off a fast break.

Even journeyman Richard Jefferson came off bench to drain a 3-pointer. It was demoralizing, and the Celtics spent most of the second quarter trying to mount a consistent offense and an occasional defensive stop.

Green led the club with 18 points in the half, by far his best performance of the season, but his teammates were 9-for-31 shooting, including 2-point, 2-rebound performance from Sullinger and a three-foul first half from Olynyk.

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The Celtics looked ready to head home, but they were able to finish this short road swing with some encouragement.

“We’re a team, when we get stops, we’re very aggressive,” Rondo said. “We can learn from this. It was a tough loss for us but we didn’t give up. We were down 30-plus points and dug deep.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.