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Celtics’ big comeback goes for naught

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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) battled the Mavericks’ Zaza Pachulia for a first-half rebound.Sharon Ellman
Mavericks 118
Celtics 113

DALLAS — Celtics forward Jae Crowder stepped to the foul line with 6.7 seconds left in regulation Monday and calmly drained three free throws, improbably sending this game against the Mavericks to overtime.

Crowder said he'd had dreams about such a situation. It was his first game here as an opponent, his first since being traded away from a Mavericks team that had used him as little more than a bit player for 2½ seasons.

And suddenly the stage was set for the Celtics to complete an improbable comeback, for them to overcome a sordid 1 for 15 start, for them to dig out of a 17-point hole, for them to win one more game against a more powerful team.

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In overtime, though, the Celtics stalled and the Mavericks could not miss. Dallas made all four of its 3-point attempts and all six of its free throws, as it took a 118-113 victory and snapped the Celtics' three-game winning streak.

"That overtime," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said as he stood in a near-empty locker room long after the game. "You can't give up 20 points in five minutes."

The Mavericks led 103-102 with less than two minutes left in the game when they blitzed the Celtics with a barrage of 3-pointers. Deron Williams hit one that was answered by Marcus Smart at the other end. Then Williams added another long ball, and after a missed 3-pointer by Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki swished another 3 from the left corner, making it 112-105 with 35.4 seconds left.

Dallas had shredded the Celtics for nine points in just over a minute, and Boston was dazed. The Celtics made one last, desperate push, as Kelly Olynyk hit a pair of 3-pointers to make it 114-111, but they could get no closer.

Thomas and Smart had 20 points apiece to lead the Celtics. The ageless Nowitzki finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds for Dallas.

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Afterward, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said that Nowitzki had struggled against Celtics forward Amir Johnson in the first half, when he scored just 6 points. But Johnson played only two minutes after halftime, when Nowitzki went off for 25 of his 31 points.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens instead called on either Jared Sullinger or Olynyk in Boston's otherwise guard-heavy lineups. Olynyk played well; he made 5 of 6 3-pointers and the Celtics outscored the Mavericks by 27 points when he was on the court.

"I thought he did a lot of good things," Stevens said of Olynyk. "I thought he played defense well. He went for that long stretch in the second half and we got him a breather and put him back in at the end. I just thought he was good."

The Celtics missed 14 of their first 15 shots to start the game and didn't look at ease taking them. But if there is one truth about NBA games, it is that they are long and they offer plenty of time for redemption.

At halftime Boston trailed, 52-39, and the players actually found that encouraging.

"I felt we could push the game where we wanted to," Crowder said. "We just felt like we were down 13 and we should have been down 23. We were in striking distance. We knew what we could do."

The Celtics quickly fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter before clawing back. They took their first lead on a pair of Crowder free-throws, and a 3-pointer from the right corner by Olynyk capped a 31-11 surge, making it 70-66 with 1:08 left.

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The Mavericks were clinging to a one-point lead with 1:27 left in regulation when Nowitzki caught a pass at the top of the key and swished a long 3-pointer as he was fouled. The free throw gave Dallas a 94-89 advantage.

"Can't play too close to him," Crowder said of Nowitzki, his former teammate. "He flops and flails a lot and knows how to get the calls. But you have to play physical with him and not let him get to his spots. You have to make it tough for him."

Thomas hit a pair of free throws and then scored on a tough drive to the basket, and Crowder added a layup that gave the Celtics a 95-94 lead with 34.4 seconds left. But the Mavericks hit four consecutive free throws to take a three-point lead.

With 6.7 seconds left, Raymond Felton fouled Crowder as he attempted a 3-pointer. The forward made all three foul shots, and the Mavericks were unable to get past midcourt before time ran out, forcing overtime.

"One thing about [our] team is they'll keep playing," Stevens said. "We'll try to play until the clock runs out, and that's been a pretty consistent trademark."

In the extra session, however, the Mavericks found their rhythm and the Celtics had no answer. Dallas made 22 of 24 free throws in the game, many in the final minutes of regulation and overtime when they were needed most.

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Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.