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Game 25: Mavs at Celtics

BOSTON — Flying high after finishing their three-game homestand with back-to-back wins, the Dallas Mavericks stepped into TD Garden with plenty of confidence.

Traveling to Boston for a second showdown of the season against the NBA-best Celtics, the Mavericks went in search of their first three-game winning streak Wednesday night. The Mavs also attempted to start their three-game road trip with a signature win, hoping to avenge a 110-102 overtime loss to the Celtics at home on Nov. 20. But despite keeping early-season MVP candidate Kyrie Irving under wraps for most of the game, the Mavericks (7-18) would fall to a hard-fought 97-90 defeat.

“[Irving] turned it on there late, and we didn’t really make the runs that we should have when he wasn’t out there,” 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said after the loss. “With a great player, you just try to mix it up. You try to stay in front of him, you try to make it tough on him, and he made some tough shots in the fourth. He made some runners, got to the basket a couple of times with some nifty finishes, and that’s what he’s been doing all year.”

Looking to take advantage of a Boston team that was without swingman Jaylen Brown (inflamed right eye) and big man Marcus Morris (left knee rehabilitation), the Mavericks tried to come out of the gate fast. The Mavs also hoped to contain Irving after surrendering 47 points to the cat-quick guard in the first matchup between the teams. Meanwhile, Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. handled the early scoring duties for the visiting team, powering a 6-2 Dallas start.

Boston charged back with a 7-0 run to take the lead, but the Mavs countered with the interior play of German big man Maxi Kleber. Tempers then got the better of both teams, leading to a double-technical foul call on Smith and Irving with 4:24 left in the first quarter. Another technical was handed to Mavs veteran swingman Wesley Matthews 20 seconds later for arguing a foul call with officials. Still, after a pair of jumpers by Nowitzki, the Mavs surged back in front on backup guard J.J. Barea’s three-pointer. Smith’s seven points in the period then lifted the Mavericks into the second stanza with a 26-24 edge.

Starting the second period with scores by backup big man Dwight Powell and veteran reserve Devin Harris, the Mavs kept their foot on the gas with a 12-0 run from the end of the first quarter. The Mavericks’ second unit continued to control the pace after Barea found Nowitzki in the corner for a three a short time later. But after a trey from Celtics forward Abdel Nader, the Mavs’ lead sat at just 37-36 with 7:28 left in the first half.

The Mavericks turned to the young backcourt of Smith and second-year standout Yogi Ferrell, taking a 53-44 advantage as they caught fire from behind the three-point arc. Kleber also supplied the defense with a pair of rejections at the rim. And behind Smith’s 12 first-half points, the Mavs took a 57-47 advantage into the intermission.

Led by Smith’s 4-of-11 shooting, the Mavericks outshot the Celtics (22-4) through two quarters, 47.6 percent to 37.8 percent. The Mavs also overcame Boston’s 27-23 rebounding edge, forcing seven turnovers and hitting six of their 13 attempts from three-point range in the half.

“If you look at the first half and the shots we were getting, everyone was getting in the flow,” Mavs leading scorer Harrison Barnes said. “Everyone was chipping in and everyone was getting into the flow of passing, moving and running. In the second half, every time we were getting up against the clock and not getting great shots.”

Starting the second half with Smith’s driving assist to Kleber, the Mavericks tried to continue separating themselves on the scoreboard. But after back-to-back threes from Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum and big man Al Horford in the midst of an 8-0 Boston run, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was forced to call timeout with his team up 59-55 and 9:48 left in the third quarter.

The Boston run continued to 10-0 after Tatum’s steal and slam at the other end. Irving’s driving score then capped the run at 12-0 while tying the game at 59-all. Horford’s three from the wing then put the Celtics up by one, 62-61, forcing a Dallas timeout with 6:19 left in the period. But after back-to-back jumpers from Barnes, the visiting team surged back ahead. Barnes stayed aggressive later in the quarter, shouldering the bulk of the scoring load with 10 points in the period. The Mavericks then escaped into the final period with a 73-70 lead under their belt.

“We got the first basket to go up 12, and then they went on a 12-0 run,” Carlisle said of the third-quarter breakdowns. “This is where on the road in difficult arenas you’ve got to play through those situations. You’ve got to find a way to get stops, to score and to stick together, and we struggled with it in the second half.”

Surrendering the lead as Boston began the fourth quarter with the first 10 points of the period, the Mavs tried to settle down after back-to-back threes from reserves Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier put their team up 80-73 with 9:07 left to play. Nowitzki and Barea then attempted to intervene, swishing consecutive threes of their own in the midst of an 8-0 run to tie the game at 81-all with 7:23 remaining on the game clock.

Nowitzki stepped up with a timely jumper after the Celtics opened up a four-point edge later in the quarter. Barnes also reemerged in the scoring with a turnaround jumper to tie the game at 85-all. But the momentum would be short-lived after Irving completed a three-point play over Matthews to put the Celtics up 92-85 with 3:15 left. The Boston run continued to 8-0 after Rozier split a pair of free throws with 2:00 on the game clock. And after Rozier’s thunderous dunk over Nowitzki, the Celtics put the finishing touches on their win in the final moments.

Scoring 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, Barnes led the Mavericks in a losing effort while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing three assists. Nowitzki added 16 points and six boards inside, and Kleber pitched in 13 points, five rebounds and five blocks. Smith was the only other Mav in double figures with 12 points on just 4-of-16 shooting.

Irving led five Celtics in double figures with 23 points on 10 of 18 from the field. The Celtics also outshot the Mavericks for the game, 41.4 percent to 39.5 percent, adding a 53-45 rebounding advantage to overcome their 12 turnovers.

“It was a pretty well-defended game really on both sides,” Carlisle concluded. “Obviously, they did a better job than we did, but holding these guys under 100 is the kind of defensive game that we needed. We needed more force on offense, and we needed more disposition. We just didn’t do it.”

“They were active with their switching. We got some good looks and missed some around the rim, and they shot the ball well,” Nowitzki admitted. “That second unit made a huge run there in the third and at the beginning of the fourth, but they’re a good team and they keep coming. They play hard, and they’re well-coached.”

Note: The Mavericks will now continue their three-game road trip Friday in Milwaukee during a rematch against the Bucks. Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after a 111-79 home win on Nov. 18. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to their home floor next Tuesday night at American Airlines Center against the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio leads the season series 2-0. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Nerlens Noel (left thumb injury) — questionable
Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee quadriceps tendinitis) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out