BOSTON – A game that started with the Dallas Mavericks committing five turnovers in the opening four minutes ended all warm and fuzzy, thanks to the Boston Celtics and their fans rooting for. . .Dirk Nowitzki?
As the Celtics were busy putting the finishing touches on a 114-93 wire-to-wire victory over the Mavs, their fans were, oddly enough, almost out of breath due to hollering to the top of their lungs while cheering for Nowitzki to make at least one basket. Even Celtics coach Brad Stevens said:
“I’ve rooted for the opponent to score two times in my life: Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki. I was sitting over there just like everyone else in the building saying, ‘Go in. Go in.’
“But, what a special player. And you know, kudos to him.”
It was indeed one of the strangest endings ever to a game, with the Mavs players constantly feeding Nowitzki the ball, the fans urging him on, and Nowitzki jacking up five shots in the game’s final six minutes. Unfortunately, Nowitzki couldn’t steer any balls into the basket on Friday as he was an ugly 0-of-10 from the field, including 0-of-8 from 3-point range, and left Boston perhaps for the last time without scoring any points.
Still, he was appreciative of the respect the Celtics’ fans gave him on a night when he obviously struggled through his worst performance of the season.
“It’s sweet when not only your home fans, but when you’re on the road they appreciate what you’ve done in the last two decades,” Nowitzki sad. “I appreciate the fans of Boston, but unfortunately I’m really disappointed I couldn’t make one (basket).
“I had some great looks. It was one of them nights.”
Sensing Friday may have been Nowitzki’s very last game playing in Boston, the fans were fully aware that he needed only two points to pass Kobe Bryant and become the Western Conference player who scored the most points in games played in Boston. Thus, Nowitzki received a boisterous standing ovation when he first entered the game late in the first quarter, and the cheering and love kept coming every time he touched the ball.
“I definitely will never forget the reception, and obviously at the end how they wanted me to break the record,” Nowitzki said. “I really appreciate it.”
As far as the game itself, the Mavs trailed 17-5 at the 7:06 mark of the first quarter and things kept declining until they were behind, 53-36, after Flower Mound Marcus High School product Marcus Smart drained a 3-pointer with 4:40 remaining in the first half.
“The early turnovers were a big problem,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It got us behind the eight ball early.
“We corrected it late first through the second quarter, but then we’re playing from behind all night. It just makes it hard on the road, and they took advantage. They took advantage with transition threes and transition layups, so we got to take better care of the ball.”
A 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer by rookie forward Luka Doncic, and another trey by Harrison Barnes and Doncic helped the Mavs inch to within 58-57 of the Celtics early in the second half. But Boston was off and running again, outscoring the Mavs 26-9 and assuming an 84-66 lead with 1:30 left in the third quarter following a layup by Gordon Hayward.
“One of the unlucky things about tonight was in situations where we had really good shots we just were unable to get anything going consistently, and that was tough,” Carlisle said. “I thought our second unit in the first half had a lot of good looks – we just didn’t get them down.
“But in the end a lot of this comes down to possession of the ball, ball security, rebounding. Those areas on the road we just got to continue to work to do better at.”
The Mavs, who dropped to 18-20 overall and 1-2 on this four-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Philadelphia at 6:30 p.m., shot 38.6 percent from the field and missed 33 of their 44 attempts from 3-point territory. Barnes led the Mavs with 20 points, Doncic finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, DeAndre Jordan collected 12 points and 15 rebounds, and Wesley Matthews added 11 points.
When asked to sum up Doncic’s performance, Carlisle said: “He did some good things. But look, when you get beat big and you never have a lead in the game, it’s hard to look for individual positives.
“This is a team game and we’ve got to approach it that way.”
Doncic was 7-of-16 from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point land, and added that: ”It was a bad game for me.”
Meanwhile, Carlisle, who was a ember of the Celtics team that won the NBA title in 1986, wasn’t surprised the Boston fans paid homage to Nowitzki.
“They have a lot of respect for him here,” Carlisle said. “It’s pretty amazing. A special moment if you just think about it.”
Upon reflection of the night as a whole, Nowitzki said: “I just had zero touch. Some of those easy looks I was getting obviously pissed.
“Normally I would stop shooting, but they kept obviously yelling, so I kind of had to force some shots up there in the end. I had some great looks, and like I said, I just didn’t have it tonight.”