Isaiah Thomas battles for control of the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)
The Celtics once again had their finishing kick in high gear Monday in Dallas.
Perhaps the most important quality the Celtics have shown over the course of this promising season is their ability to close out teams in the fourth. They did it again Monday as they scored 28 points in the final 12 minutes in a 111-98 win over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. No team in the NBA scores more in the final 12 minutes than Boston’s 29-point average.
Something else they’ll need come playoff time is balance. They showed that Monday, also. Isaiah Thomas led six players in double figures with 29 points. They improved to 17-11 on the road, the best such record in the East.
The Celtics finished off their 4-game West Coast swing with three straight victories after a loss in Sacramento. They come back home with a great deal of momentum, taking on the fast-improving 76ers Wednesday night at TD Garden.
For a full recap and box score of Monday’s win over the Mavericks, click here.
The Celtics improve to 36-19 and draw to within two games of first-place Cleveland (37-16) in the East.
Thomas had 29 points, his 39th straight game with at least 20 points. The Celtics got a dose of their own medicine as 5-foot-7 rookie Yogi Ferrell scored 20 points and put a scare into the Celtics in parts of the game.
Early in the game, 5-foot-7 Isaiah Thomas was guarding 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki hit a couple of jumpers over him.
The Celtics then switched to Marcus Smart. The man who has “Dallas” tattooed on his forearm put on a show in his hometown early.
The two teams were red hot to start the game from the perimeter. Thomas hit his first three shots from beyond the arc while Smart also hit an early three, making the Celtics 4-for-4 from deep. But the Mavericks connected on six of their first seven shots as they kept pace.
The Celtics finished the first quarter hitting 7-of-11 from 3-point range while Dallas was 4-for-6 from deep.
The game was a continuation of the coming out party for rookie Yogi Ferrell. He is the Mavericks’ answer to Isaiah Thomas. For a good part of the first half, he played like it. He hit his first five shots and scored 11 points in just nine minutes of action.
Deron Williams was ejected when he drove to the basket with just under 40 seconds left in the first half and was called for an offensive foul, drawn by Smart. Williams picked up two quick technicals and was tossed.
Then with just 0.6 seconds remaining, Ferrell was whistled for a questionable foul on Isaiah Thomas, who was firing up a deep three. Thomas hit all three shots and finished off an 8-0 run to put the Celtics up, 61-50, at the half. Thomas led the Celtics at the break with 18 points while Smart added 17. Gerald Green had 10.
With Deron Williams gone, the Mavericks had to rely more on Ferrell. That meant trouble for the Celtics as Ferrell did to them what they’ve been doing all season to other teams with Isaiah Thomas. Ferrell hit a pair of shots in the opening three minutes as the Mavericks pulled within five points.
Dallas spent most of the third quarter making charge after charge at the Celtics, thanks in part to 8-of-11 shooting. The Mavericks cut the deficit to just one, 83-82, heading into the fourth quarter.
After Ferrell missed a three to take the lead, Marcus Smart threw a perfect full-court pass to Isaiah Thomas, who converted the miss into the first points of the fourth for either team on a layup with 10 minutes left, giving Boston an 85-82 lead.
With 4:31 left, Thomas drilled a three to cap a 6-0 run to put the Celtics up, 100-89. The other three points came on a fortunate trey from Kelly Olynyk on the right baseline. Thomas drove and then looked for Jae Crowder in the post. The ball was deflected to a wide-open Olynyk, who drained the three.
Then after a three-point play by Dirk Nowitzki, James Young came down and hit a jumper. After a defensive stop, Crowder nailed another three, putting the Celtics up, 105-92, with just 3:38 left.
Avery Bradley missed his 14th straight game (and 18th in 19) with a strained Achilles while Jaylen Brown missed the game right hip flexor injury. Neither player is expected to return until after next Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, missing Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia and Thursday’s game in Chicago.
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