Celtics-Mavericks Live: Brandan Wright Makes Mincemeat of Boston’s Defense as Celts Lose Third Straight

Jeff Green, Robin Lopez, Greivis VasquezFinal, Mavericks 104-94: A player walking off the court after a loss has never looked so sweet to the Celtics.

Courtney Lee, who gave the Celtics a scare when he went down clutching his left knee late in the fourth quarter, left more or less under his own power with what appeared to be a left ankle sprain on replays. As poorly as the Celtics played for most of Friday’s game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers would still like to keep them all intact in this injury-riddled year.

Brandan Wright came within two points of matching his career high by scoring 23 points. Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 points as one of five Dallas players in double figures.

The Celtics had three players with 16 points each and were extremely aggressive attacking the hoop as a team. They took 27 foul shots, missing just two, and improved dramatically on offense in the second half to make the game interesting. But O.J. Mayo hit the dagger while Lee writhed in pain, and the Celtics have consecutive loss No. 3 on their resume with a difficult back-to-back coming up Saturday in Memphis.

Fourth quarter, 1:21, Mavericks 100-92: Courtney Lee is down, clutching just below his knee. Mayo hitting a three that could be the back-breaker is almost secondary now.

Fourth quarter, 1:51, Mavericks 97-92: Maybe the Celtics still have a prayer after all.

After Pierce hit a pair of free throws, the Celtics pushed the ball and Green flipped home a lefty layup to bring them within five. Stay tuned here.

Fourth quarter, 2:44, Mavericks 94-86: It would take a ridiculous reversal of fortune, but Pierce is trying hard to keep the Celtics in this game. Again. But he will probably fall short. Again.

As he did late in Wednesday’s loss in New Orleans, Pierce has gotten aggressive at the offensive end. He drove for a physical layup and hit a three on a kick-out from Garnett to pull Boston within eight.

Fourth quarter, 5:01, Mavericks 93-81: There it is. Wright has his 20 points. He got it on a putback dunk of a Carter miss to restore Dallas’ double-digit lead. This marks the second time in Wright’s career he has at least 20 points, and his first since 2009, when he had 25 points for the Warriors against the Sixers.

Fourth quarter, 7:44, Mavericks 87-77: Nowitzki and Garnett have been having an elbow match for most of the game, and it is having an impact on how the Celtics defend. Garnett appears to have gotten tentative about muscling up to Nowitzki, who is selling every bit of contact he absorbs.

It was clear to see when Garnett, who usually hedges hard around ball screens, sat back passively, afraid to get too physical with Nowitzki or Collison. The effect was a clear lane for Collison for a floater.

Fourth quarter, 10:17, Mavericks 81-75: Of course, just when the Celtics look lost, Jordan Crawford gives them a boost.

Rivers tolerates Crawford because, he says, the Xavier product is the Celtics’ “wild card.” After missing his first four shots of the game, Crawford hit a difficult, contested corner three and then spun home a harder-than-it-had-to-be layup on the break.

End of third quarter, 3:14, Mavericks 79-68:¬†With one flashback dunk, Carter provided the highlight that made a mockery of Boston’s defense. Bradley, Green and Wilcox all sort of ran into each other — literally, in Green and Bradley’s case — allowing Carter to get free for a cock-back one-handed dunk.

Wilcox, the only player other than Bass to show some signs of life for the Celtics, drew a shooting foul and threw down a slam of his own to pull Boston within single digits at the end of three. But the Celtics will need much more than offensive aggression to avoid their third straight loss. They need to figure out how to keep Dallas from getting layups and dunks at will out of their screen-and-roll, and fast.

Third quarter, 5:54, Mavericks 68-59: There has been Tiago Splitter, Tyler Hansbrough and now Brandan Wright. The Celtics just keep making sub-star big men look a lot better than they are.

Wright, like Splitter and unlike Hansbrough, is actually a pretty good player. He has his flaws, which is why he has yet to make a major splash in the NBA at 25 years old, but he is a serviceable energy big man. But midway through the third quarter, he is already more than double his season average of 7.7 points per game with 16 points. He is the main beneficiary of Boston’s dreadful pick and roll defense, which seems to be in a competition to see how many dunks they can give the UNC alum.

Halftime, Mavericks 55-44: The final image of that first half should be Celtics coach Doc Rivers pulling Bradley aside, explaining something or other to the third-year guard. One thing is certain: Rivers was schooling the youngster on defense.

Bradley’s pressure defense gets lots of lip service, but the most important quality a defensive player can have in the NBA is staying in front of his man. Bradley was just one of several perpetrators of not getting that done in the first half. The Mavs owned the Celtics on pick and rolls, even though Garnett is one of the top pick-and-roll defending big men in the game.

The Mavs scored 26 points in the paint and put up 13 more shots in the first half than the Celtics did. That sort of volume helped overcome the Celtics’ aggressiveness on their own offensive end, where they got to the line for 17 free throws and hit all 17.

Bass, by are Boston’s most animated player, leads the team with 10 points. Nowitzki has 14 points to lead three Dallas players in double figures.

Second quarter, 2:39, 45-39: Garnett is the only Celtics player on the floor actually playing defense. Yes, that includes Bradley.

The Celtics are just sort of running around, kind of putting bodies on guys and mostly not as the Mavs decimate them with ball screens. Wright and Marion, neither of whom is an elite finisher, have baskets at the rim as the Celtics are struggling to contain Dallas’ pick and roll.

When you struggle to contain pick and rolls involving Wright, Marion, Kaman, James and Darren Collison, you’re doing it wrong.

Second quarter, 6:17, Mavericks 39-33: For a lot of people, Vince Carter is a slam-dunking specialist who never really panned out. That is not entirely true. Although Carter never really lived up to the massive hype that accompanied his breakout start in Toronto, he has developed into a solid all-around veteran.

His shot selection sometimes leaves something to be desired, but Carter’s ability to recognize mismatches and understand positioning on the court are advanced. He demanded the ball in the post when he drew Terry on a switch, as he should, and backed down the much smaller defender for an and-one layup.

Second quarter, 8:03, Mavericks 35-27: If the Celtics need a spark, maybe they can try telling Jeff Green the results of the Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast game.

As you may have heard, the Eagles knocked off Green’s Hoyas just a few minutes ago. The Hoyas’ run of ineffectiveness against double-digit seeds in the tourney continues, something Green did not really need to worry about during his time there.

Green, who has six points in seven minutes off the bench, might get a motivational boost if he finds out his team was upset — again.

End of first quarter, Mavericks 30-21: The real referees must be working the round of 64 in Dayton or Kansas City right now, because there have already been a handful of calls that sure do not seem NBA-caliber.

The comedy of errors started to get ridiculous when the buzzer sounded for the end of the first quarter, however. Apparently there was some disagreement over whether the quarter was actually over, so after a lengthy video review, they threw a couple more seconds up on the clock and let Dallas inbound to run out the clock.

Yippee!

First quarter, 2:59, Mavericks 24-19: Jason Terry spent eight years in Big D, which he still calls home. He helped get Dirk a ring in 2011, and his “JET” move was popularized there. Still, it was uncertain how he would be greeted by his old fans.

Terry did sign elsewhere last offseason, after all. It was not with a conference rival like Ray Allen, but fans often do not respond well when a player departs willingly. The Mavs fans apparently know better, though. Following the lead of their bombastic owner, Dallas fans gave Terry a strong ovation when he entered the game with four minutes left in the first quarter.

That love only lasts so long, though. The crowd was upset when Terry drove to the hole and drew a questionable foul on Brendan Wright.

First quarter, 7:47, Mavericks 11-4: The battle between Garnett and Nowitzki is fun to watch, and not just because both are champion big men who are old as dirt.

Garnett and Nowitzki have gradually become more like each other, and it is no coincidence they both now have championship rings. Nowitzki, once a spot-up shooter, has become a devastating post-up player. Garnett, once a superbly athletic man-child, now has a midrange jumper at least as consistent as Nowitzki’s.

7:36 p.m.: If you have not watched the Mavericks play much this season and are just going off a quick perusal of the statistics, it is hard to tell why they have struggled so much. There is no obvious area where the team is so bad that it should explain why they find themselves 3 1/2 games out of the playoffs as they get set to host the Celtics.

Although it is tough to pin any team’s failure on one thing, the roster construction simply had not panned out the way Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson envisioned. When the Mavs missed out on Deron Williams in free agency and Dwight Howard in the trade market, they decided to go with a number of short-term quick fixes. That meant Elton Brand and Chris Kaman on one-year deals, O.J. Mayo on a two-year deal and several similar short-length contracts.

The Mavs clearly figured they would give Rick Carlisle, one of the best coaches in the business, a year to see what he could do with castoffs. The results have been underwhelming, but not discouraging.

The Mavs will have some cap space this summer. Nowitzki, Mayo, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter are the only players of significance who have guaranteed contracts or are likely to be back next year. Expect the Mavs to get aggressive in the market again, since this recipe clearly has not worked.

The projected starters appear below.

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Courtney Lee
Avery Bradley

Mavericks
Chris Kaman
Dirk Nowitzki
Shawn Marion
O.J. Mayo
Mike James

8 a.m. ET: Jason Terry had a rough game Wednesday in New Orleans. Maybe he was just saving his bullets for Dallas.

The former Maverick returns to his old stomping grounds Friday as the Celtics (36-31) make their one and only trip to Big D. Terry helped the Mavs win the NBA championship in 2011, when they outlasted LeBron James’ Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, but the former sixth man of the year has had his struggles this year. He went scoreless in 20 minutes against the Hornets in his last game, shooting 0-for-5 from the field and committing three fouls.

Up next is the Mavs (32-36), who are trying to make a late, highly improbable run to a playoff spot. The Mavs have won seven of their last 11 games and have closed within three games in the loss column of the eighth-seeded Lakers. As Dirk Nowitzki gets his stride back, though, Dallas has struggled to find consistency. They let a golden opportunity at a win escape Wednesday when they bowed out by 17 points to the Nets at home.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET.