BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics dug themselves an early hole in Dallas on Monday night, one that was too much to overcome in the end.
But that didn't stop them from making it interesting in the second half.
After falling behind by 31 in the first half and trailing by 26 at halftime, the Celtics had no business to make it a game against the best offensive team in the NBA. But they fought and clawed back with a furious run over the game's final 24 minutes, which began with a 28-10 run to start the third quarter and continued with some strong defense down the stretch.
In the end, the Celtics couldn't get the stop or hit the shot they needed to in order to escape with a victory. Those are both hard tasks to ask a young team on the road. While they fought as hard as they could in the second half, their deficiencies in the first half were too much to overcome. That'll be the focus for head coach Brad Stevens when he and his team sit down to watch the game tape from the 118-113 loss.
"You can't start that way against anybody, and you can't start that way against the best offense in the league," said head coach Brad Stevens. "They had it rolling and they had it moving; it was like one team played five-on-zero in the first half. Then we got into the ball and played a little more into our identity. We played better, but it's easy to play when you're down 26."
"You know it's like getting punched in the mouth," forward Jeff Green said of the first half. "Once you get punched in the mouth you tend to wake up a little bit and start to play a little harder. Houston and Dallas both came out and punched us in the mouth and you know we woke up in the second half. We have to be the aggressor; we can't allow teams to jump on us like that."
Green led all scorers with 35 points, hitting 14 of his 28 shots from the floor, while Avery Bradley had a very impressive night with a career-high 32 points on 13-for-22 shooting. He drained four of his six three-point attempts, and was fouled taking one with 39 seconds to go with Dallas clinging to a one point lead. Bradley hit just two of his three shots at the line though, and Dallas was able to hold off the Boston's comeback with a Monte Ellis jumper followed by some game-sealing free throws.
Monday night goes down as a loss in the standings and extends the franchise's losing streak in Western Conference buildings to 22 games. But if anything is clear following the game, it's there is no quit in these Celtics.
After an embarrassing loss in Houston on Saturday and their horrid start on Monday, the Celtics could have packed it in and left the state of Texas with very little confidence. But Stevens made sure his team came out with some extra fire to start the second half, and it showed with their defensive intensity. They outscored the Mavs 38-24 in the third quarter, and even when the game seemed out of reach in the final minutes, they kept battling hard for every rebound and loose ball.
Perhaps the most impressive stretch came from a rookie playing in front of his home crowd. Marcus Smart, who attended high school just outside of Dallas, played out of his mind in the game's final minutes. It started with a beautiful no-look, left-handed pass under the basket to Jared Sullinger that made it a four point game with 4:15 left to go. On Boston's next possession Smart had Dirk Nowitzki on him (Smart actually guarded the Dallas big man on a few possessions as well), and calmly stepped back and nailed a three pointer to bring Boston to within two, 107-105. After a 7-0 Dallas run made it appear the Celtics had no shot, Smart started the fast break after a Sullinger block on Monte Ellis and fed Green for an open three, getting the Celtics within five. He and Avery Bradley teamed up to force a Dallas turnover just a few ticks later, and a Bradley layup once again had Boston within three.
Fans will be giddy after Smart's electric play during Boston's comeback, but the rookie wasn't pleased with the team's start. Still, he remains confident.
"It's on us. You can't lay down. We talked among each other and we weren't trying to get embarrassed like we did Saturday," said Smart. "It's really frustrating because that team in the second half is the team we know we can be and the team we are. It's just hard knowing that and coming out in the first half the way we did."
Games like Saturday's blowout and the first half of Monday are to be expected from a young team looking to form its identity, especially on the road. When the Celtics are not focused on the defensive end, things can get out of hand quickly.
But know that even when they're staring at a double-digit deficit, they're going to play hard. Things won't always fall in Boston's favor, but if the effort is there, it's still going to be a lot of fun to watch.
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