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The Boston Celtics trailed by as many as 23 against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night and were down 17 heading into the fourth quarter.
For yet another game, they made a late comeback push in an effort to win. And for the second consecutive game, they fell short.
The Mavericks knocked off the C's 113-108 at TD Garden. The Celtics were plagued by poor shooting from the outside and only scored 45 points in the first half.
Though their performance in the fourth quarter continues to improve, the team has just not been able to get going quickly enough in the first half. As a result, they have found themselves behind by too much too often, and that has cost them far too many games this season.
Their latest loss drops the C's to 23-25 and 0-2 to kick-start what was supposed to be a crucial seven-game homestand.
Here are three observations from Boston's loss to Dallas.
1. The Celtics' perimeter defense has completely fallen off
It has been very common for opponents of the Celtics to take advantage of them from deep. That's exactly what happened against the Mavericks on Wednesday night.
Dallas went 19-of-39 from beyond the arc against Boston. Over their last five games, the Celtics have allowed their opponents to shoot 42.7 percent from 3-point range. The only team that didn't break the 40 percent threshold against them? The shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder.
The C's perimeter defense is a far cry from what it was last year. During the 2019-20 season, the Celtics were the best team against 3-point shooters in the league. They ranked 19th of the NBA's 30 teams against the 3-ball heading into their game against the Mavericks.
C's 3-point percentage allowed (2019-20)
C's 3-point percentage allowed (2020-21)
The Celtics are going to have to do something about their perimeter play on both sides of the ball. They have to up their defensive effort, but they need to improve on offense as well. They shot just 11-of-47 (23.9 percent) from deep against the Mavericks, and that played a big role in their loss.
2. The Celtics really missed Robert Williams
Robert Williams was ruled out less than an hour before tip-off as a result of a non-COVID illness. The C's really missed his presence as he sat out his first game since mid-February.
Without Williams and with Tristan Thompson still in the NBA's health and safety protocols, the Celtics were forced to play Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet for a majority of the game at the center spot. They both had been with the Celtics for less than a week and were at a disadvantage because of that.
Wagner and Kornet played a combined 32 minutes. They combined for six points, six rebounds, two assists, one block, and a minus-4 rating. Considering their relative lack of experience with the C's, that effort was good enough. But it paled in comparison to Williams' impact.
During the month of March, Williams had averaged 10 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and a whopping 2.9 blocks per game. Without Williams, the C's lost the rebounding battle 43-36 and logged their fewest total blocks as a team since they failed to record one in a February loss to the Washington Wizards.
Celtics blocks per game in March
Celtics blocks vs. Mavericks
Without Williams, the C's didn't have a true rim protector in the game. Gone were his monster blocks, hustle plays, and smooth offensive execution on the offensive end of the floor. Though the Mavericks did a lot of their damage from deep, they also shot 50 percent inside the arc and were met with little resistance at the rim.
If Williams had been able to play, that would certainly have been different.
3. Luka Doncic is the real deal
In February, Celtics fans got to see just how good Luka Doncic was when he dropped 31 points against the C's to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists. He also had a game-winning 3-point shot with 0.1 seconds left on the clock to give the Mavericks the win in that contest.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 24, 2021
On Wednesday night, the C's were reminded of just how good Doncic was in another excellent performance.
Doncic dropped 24 points in the first half. He was red-hot from beyond the arc and was able to make shots with ease, even with a hand in his face. In that first half, he had only one miss and was a huge reason that the Mavericks had built up a 19-point lead heading into the locker room.
In the second half, Doncic wasn't quite as hot, but he continued to make some clutch baskets in the fourth quarter. He hit a particularly deep 3-point shot at one point to stem a Celtics run.
BANG. LUKA FROM WAY DOWNTOWN ‼️ pic.twitter.com/dklPi1sACB
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2021
That got the Mavericks pointed in the right direction and helped keep the C's at an arm's length as they decided to try to finish off a 23-point comeback.
Doncic finished the night with 36 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. During his career, he has made 23-of-41 shots from 3-point range against the C's, good for a mark of 56.1 percent. That's his highest 3-point percentage against any opponent at the NBA level.
Doncic did have eight turnovers vs. Boston but helped to offset those with eight rebounds and five assists. He has been a thorn in Boston's side over his three years in the NBA and will continue to be one for some time.