Mavericks 120, Celtics 104

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DALLAS (AP)—Dallas coach Don Nelson had to get loud to convince his players to give a better defensive effort.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 points, and Antoine Walker added 21 points and nine rebounds against his former team to help the Mavericks beat Boston 120-104 on Friday night.

Nelson ripped his team’s lackluster defense after Atlanta stopped the Mavericks’ nine-game home winning streak on Wednesday night with a 111-110 victory.

The Mavericks responded to the harsh words with a better defensive commitment. They opened against the Celtics with a 23-7 run, taking a 32-14 lead into the second quarter.

“They got the message or read the papers,” Nelson said.

Rookie Josh Howard had a season-high 19 points, and Antawn Jamison added 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Mavericks, who held a 46-27 rebounding edge, 16-6 on the offensive glass.

Steve Nash had 13 points and 10 assists for the Mavericks.

Dallas went on to improve to 30-5 at home, matching the Sacramento Kings for the NBA’s best home record.

Walker converted 9-of-13 field-goal attempts and drew primary defensive responsibility for former teammate Paul Pierce.

Pierce, who started the night averaging 23.1 points per game, finished with 17 points and went 7-for-16 from the field.

Walker and Pierce jawed at each other during the heat of competition, but smiled and embraced at the end of the game.

On one play in the third quarter, Walker forced Pierce to lose control of the ball for a turnover. On the way upcourt, Walker and Walker exchanged verbal challenges.

“He said he was about to turn it up and instead he turned it over,” Walker said.

The Celtics have lost nine of their last 11 to the Mavericks, but Boston beat Dallas in the teams’ only other meeting this season on Dec. 17. Walker had only seven points on 3-of-14 shooting in his return to Boston.

This time, Walker had the edge.

“He did a great job and got the best of me,” Pierce said. “We’re 1-1 now.”

Mark Blount’s career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Chucky Atkins’ 19 paced the Celtics, who had won eight of their previous 10.

Against Atlanta, the Mavericks fell behind by 25 points at halftime, allowing the Hawks repeated open looks and layups.

Boston could only go 6-for-17 from the field against Dallas’ defense in the opening quarter.

“We didn’t want that to happen again,” Howard said. “The team had a defensive mind-set and every player took it upon themselves to play defense harder.”

Dallas was in front at halftime, 59-46, behind Nowitzki’s 16 points.

The Celtics got as close as 67-60 on Jiri Welsch’s 3-pointer with 7:10 left in the third quarter.

But the Mavericks answered with a 10-0 run sparked by Nowitzki’s six points as Dallas moved to a 77-60 advantage.

Dallas took an 85-74 lead into the fourth quarter, and Boston was unable to get closer than seven the rest of the way.

The Celtics fell a game and a half out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“I have a job to do and that’s to help get this team into the playoffs,”Blount said. “That’s all I care about.”

Notes

Boston’s 14-point opening quarter tied for the lowest first quarter by a Dallas opponent this season. … Dallas led from start to finish for the fifth time this season. … The Mavericks shot 53 percent from the field, improving to 11-0 this season when they shoot 50 percent or better. …Nowitzki is averaging 28.7 points over his last three games.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Boston
M. Blount M. Blount
11-13,  29 Pts
10 Rebs, 1 Assists
 Dallas
S. Nash S. Nash
4-6,  13 Pts
5 Rebs, 10 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists