Celtics 102, Mavericks 93

Celtics deep-six the Mavericks

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 21, 2010

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DALLAS — The number Doc Rivers had in his head was six.

Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barrea were throwing darts at the Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks were eating away at the Celtics’ lead.

Rivers put his second unit on the floor to start the fourth quarter, even though the Mavericks had all the momentum after Jason Kidd hit a 3-pointer to give Dallas a 70-69 lead with 1:13 left in the third. Nowitzki then hit a turnaround fadeaway from 15 feet that put the Mavericks up, 72-71, to end the quarter.

“I said, OK, if we get down by 6 then I have to sub,’’ Rivers said.

When his starting five was on the floor, Dallas had no answer. But he didn’t want to burn them out.

“I told our staff we have to buy minutes for these guys,’’ Rivers said. “I was literally subbing on the clock. I just kept looking at the clock and even though they [the second unit] were not scoring at all, they weren’t running away from us.’’

Rivers slowly rotated his starters back in, and the Celtics climbed back. With 5:39 on the clock, Kevin Garnett tied it at 86 with an elbow jumper off a feed from Paul Pierce, who then drove in for a layup that gave the Celtics a lead they never relinquished.

Pierce scored for 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, drilling a 3-pointer with 1:44 left that sealed the Celtics’ 102-93 win last night. It was the fourth straight for the Celtics since falling to Cleveland on the road a week ago. They’ve taken two of the three games on this road trip, with Utah coming up tomorrow.

“It’s a good win,’’ Rivers said. “[The Mavericks] are playing so well, they’ve had three days off or whatever, had prep time, we played last night. To come in and come back at the end and take the game from them was huge for us. Our starters were the key today. They played terrific. Our execution down the stretch the last three games has been terrific.’’

Give partial credit to trusting the system, with Pierce, Ray Allen (21 points), Rajon Rondo (20 points), and Kendrick Perkins (11 points) all scoring in double figures and Garnett having one of his best defensive performances (a season-high five steals) — with none playing more than 40 minutes.

“I was itching [to get back in the game],’’ Allen said. “But I always have faith in my guys on the floor. I never question what Doc does. It’s a point of he’s the coach and we’ve just got to go out there and make it happen. When he’s ready for me to get back in based on how he’s seeing the game, I’m jumping, I’m ready to go. It’s just having faith in the coaching staff and my teammates.’’

Terry (18 points in his second game since returning from a fractured orbital bone) outscored the Celtics’ bench, but the key was getting timely stops.

“We all have the confidence that the second group can sustain leads if not take it further and for the most part they did just that,’’ Garnett said. “Obviously, you get antsy over there when you see the lead start to slide a little bit. For whatever it’s worth, at the end of the day, we know if you’re not scoring, let’s just make sure they’re not scoring and get some stops.’’

Garnett was all but absent on offense, missing all four of his first-half shots, but he was everywhere at once on defense and on the glass (9 rebounds).

Picking up two wins with a day of rest before Utah tomorrow was huge, Garnett said, as the Celtics build toward the playoffs.

“Every win’s a big win at this point,’’ Garnett said, “We’re trying to gain ground. We’re trying to move up in the standings and get a better seed. At the same time, we’re taking it a game at a time, and when you’re playing good teams on their court, every win’s a good win.’’

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