Another game come and gone, another close loss stolen from the jaws of victory.
The Boston Celtics are getting all too used to the kinds of defeats they suffered Monday in a 94-89 heartbreaker against the Dallas Mavericks. For the third straight game, the Celtics (22-46) competed with a Western Conference squad, only to see the other side execute better in the clutch.
“To come in here a little bit short-handed from a roster standpoint and then doing it on the tail end of an overtime game, we had a chance,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Dallas, not quite dejectedly but not quite enthusiastically, either. “I feel like a broken record, to be honest, talking about silver linings, but that would be the one silver lining.”
This time, the Celtics faced Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks (41-27), who are just more used to this winning thing. They did not play particularly well. Dallas was outrebounded 57-36, gave up 12 straight points to end the third quarter and allowed a 14-4 run in the fourth quarter to let Boston back into the game.
When it came down to brass tacks, though, the Mavs knew how to win, and the Celtics didn’t. It was as simple as that.
Jerryd Bayless was immense for the Celtics, scoring 19 points in the game and 12 points in the fourth quarter alone. He accounted for every basket in that 14-4 run, scoring three and assisting on another two. (Kelly Olynyk also hit two free throws in that span.) In one stretch, Bayless scored nine straight Celtics points, sandwiched around 3-pointers by Monta Ellis and Nowitzki. Without Bayless, Boston wouldn’t have been in the game, especially with Rajon Rondo taking his accustomed rest in the second game of a back-to-back.
But Bayless committed some mental errors down the stretch that revealed why, despite his 6-foot-3 stature and decent handle, he’s never really been considered a point guard. He was caught unaware for an outlet pass after Olynyk collected a defensive rebound midway through the fourth quarter, the ball sailing past Bayless’ chest out of bounds. Then, with the Celtics trailing by three and needing a quick two, Bayless missed a runner and was fortunate to track down the offensive board.
At that point, however, Bayless should have pulled the ball back out, as the option for a quick two was over and the Celtics’ best hope was a game-tying three. Instead, he attempted a floater that was blocked. He protested for a foul, but it was tough to argue the non-call given the mental hiccup.
Watching the game from Dallas’ standpoint had to be far less exciting. The Mavs made the basic plays, created and hit open shots and knocked down their free throws. Teams that know how to win manage to make these types of games fairly textbook sometimes. Teams that don’t know how to win often just manage to get in their own way.
The defeat dropped the Celtics to 0-15 on the road this season against the Western Conference — a new single-season record for road futility. This was the Celtics’ final West road game of the season, which means that oh-fer will stand, despite close games in New Orleans and Dallas the last two nights.
“I’m frustrated, obviously, by our lack of success,” Stevens told reporters. “I am not frustrated by our effort. Our effort was at a pretty high level again. They’re really giving it everything they have.”
Everything they have, however, is not resulting in wins.