Doc's Pleas for D Go Unheeded

December 29, 2004

DALLAS - Practice does not always make perfect. The Celtics proved that time and again last night at American Airlines Center, failing to benefit from a recent focus on defense.

Taking advantage of their opponents' inconsistency on the defensive end, the Dallas Mavericks established a sizable advantage in the first quarter and never came close to relinquishing their lead. Most of the second half was a mere formality as the Mavericks cruised to a 113-94 victory.

Boston will try to salvage a win from this three-game trip tonight in Memphis.

Dallas held a 91-73 advantage through three quarters - after leading by as many as 28 points in the first half.

The Celtics had a chance (if you can call it that) to make the game competitive in the third, staging a 17-2 run that brought them within 11 (84-73). Gary Payton hit an 18-footer to cap the run with 3:51 seconds remaining, but that was as close as they would come. Dallas close the third with a 7-0 run, then coasted to victory.

The Mavericks' play of late has not met the expectations of coach Don Nelson, and he saw this stretch of five home games that started last night as an opportunity to build momentum. He wants the Mavericks to play better at home, rely less on Dirk Nowitzki offensively, and move the ball more.

"I choose not to use excuses," said Nelson before the game. "It's up to me to get them to play to their potential. So I'll put the onus on me. That's why I've been angry at them. They need to respond to me and they need to respond to the situation. We've got to start winning at home. Real simple."

The Mavericks did more than respond. They made a statement in the first half by dominating the action. Dallas took a 73-49 lead into the break by shooting 65 percent and recording 22 assists.

Jason Terry was one assist shy of the team record for a half (13), a mark held by Steve Nash, Mark Aguirre, and Jason Kidd. Needless to say, the Mavericks succeeded in moving the ball, though Nowitzki still led all scorers at halftime.

While Nelson got the effort he wanted from his team, the same could not be said for Doc Rivers, who has emphasized defense during recent workouts. Compared with their performance in San Antonio Sunday night, the Celtics went from bad to worse on the defensive end. The first quarter was a discouraging preview as they allowed the Mavericks to shoot 77 percent from the field and easily find the open man. With the Celtics unable to get a stop, their running game was virtually nonexistent.

With a 14-4 run midway through the first quarter, the Mavericks were well on their way. They finished the opening period ahead, 41-20.

The Celtics' body language seemed to suggest they had already given up, and nothing in the second quarter dispelled that theory. After they briefly cut the deficit to 12 (52-40) with a 6-0 run, Dallas responded immediately with a 16-0 spurt, using a variety of scorers.

"The thing that it sounds like they've been concerned with is Nowitzki is taking too many shots and holding the ball too much," said Rivers before the game. "It sounds like they're going to try to work on ball movement.

"It's easier to guard the one guy standing right next to you than if they start moving the ball. But listen, if they're moving the ball, it means that Nowitzki doesn't have the ball. That's not all bad."

The Celtics learned it could be pretty bad if Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavericks make their shots.

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