BOSTON – There was no late-game heartache for the Mavericks on Wednesday night.
This one was a lost cause much earlier.
A wretched first half left the Mavericks in a hole that eventually grew to 27 points and when they began playing a style more befitting of them, it was too late as the Boston Celtics took a 125-112 victory at TD Garden.
On Thanksgiving eve, the Mavericks looked in the first half like they had started too early on the dressing and mashed potatoes, which led to their turkey of a first half.
The Mavericks (9-8) made their run in the fourth quarter, got within nine points, but ultimately had too much ground to make up.
With chants of “MVP, MVP” ringing through the Garden, it was Jayson Tatum who blocked a Luka Dončić drive with just over two minutes to go, the crowd went nuts and Tatum jawed at Luka. It was that kind of night for the Mavericks.
Dončić had a fabulous night, but in the end, the Mavericks’ slow start – something that has hounded them before this season – cost them. And coach Jason Kidd said that he’s not ruling out anything regarding changes in the near future.
“I’m not hard and fast on anything,” he said. “This is a dress rehearsal. We got to get all the answers to the test if you’re lucky enough (to) make it to the playoffs. You got to look at all the combinations, see who’s playing well (together).
“And just understand that sometimes, change has to happen. That’s just the nature of sport. There’s no hard feelings or anything personal This is their job. We’re trying to win ballgames. We’re trying to put the right combinations out there. But the big thing is we’re not shooting the ball at a high clip from three. We’re getting wide-open looks. And when you play teams like Boston, you have to make them.”
The Mavericks were not good defensively at the start. And that marred what was an otherwise sensational night by Luka. He got his fourth 40-point-plus game of the season, most in the NBA. Joel Embiid and Steph Curry have three each.
Dončić finished with 42 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
But he could not counter Boston’s double-tough punch from Tatum (37 points, 13 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown, who had 31 points.
“They started really fast, really physical with great energy,” Dončić said. “And we didn’t start good. We got to get better starts. We weren’t physical at all in the first half. Just being physical was the key.”
So what changed as the Mavericks won both the third and fourth quarters. Better ball movement and some resistance at the defensive end showed that, in that half at least, the Mavericks were not far behind the Celtics, who own the best record in the NBA at 14-4.
“It was great,” Luka said. “We showed each other we can trust each other and we can play. Boston’s an amazing team. They have a lot of weapons but we showed in the second half we can play. We got to get better starts.”
Luka tried to make things interesting late. He helped the Mavericks get back as close as nine points before Boston got a rattled-in three-pointer by Al Horford for a 117-105 lead with 3:23 to go.
The Mavericks simply had too big of a hole to escape after a night when they weren’t sharp at all for most of the first three quarters. They trailed 96-69 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Only two teams have beaten the Celtics this season. Cleveland and Chicago have done so twice. They now are 13-0 against everybody else.
“We got off to a slow start, giving up 70 in that first half wasn’t something that we planned,” Kidd said. “But give Boston credit. They’re a good team. What I liked about the second half is that we didn’t stop fighting. We got it down to nine and the ball bounces their way with the corner three by Horford. If we can play basketball like that second half, that’ll give us a chance to win more games.”
The 70 points was the most the Mavericks have surrendered in a first half this season.
And it’s why Kidd isn’t ruling out changes.
“We’ve talked about changing the starting lineup,” he said. “That’s one of the questions I ask every day to the staff. So far, that hasn’t happened, but that’s not something that will go away. We can talk about it tomorrow. We’ll talk about it Friday and we’ll see what happens Saturday.
“We got guys not shooting the ball well. Maybe we get them in the starting lineup, give them a different look and maybe we can help them make shots.”
The Mavericks knew this Thanksgiving trip was going to be tough. The way it started, things can’t get much worse and they’ll have time to mull changes with two days off in Toronto before playing the Raptors on Saturay. The trip concludes Sunday at Milwaukee.