Tough loss aside, Boston Celtics holding steady in playoff race

Mar 13, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart (36) dribbles the ball against Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Josh Green (8) defending during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Marcus Smart (36) dribbles the ball against Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Josh Green (8) defending during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

On the day the Boston Celtics paid homage and honored the great Kevin Garnett, it seemed destined the team would keep their winning ways afloat.

The Dallas Mavericks had other ideas in mind.

Boston was never quite in flow on offense all day and the Mavericks used a late three-pointer to upend the Celtics 95-92 on Sunday.

The Celtics certainly had their opportunities to pick up the victory, leading at various times throughout this back-and-forth affair. In a physical game — where calls seemed to go against them more often than not — Boston couldn’t quite overcome struggles on offense, especially Jayson Tatum in the second-half.

Still, it was a mostly successful week as the Celtics inch closer to a playoff berth.

Boston Celtics: The week that was

Sunday’s hiccup aside, Tatum continued to show off spectacular play. In the two games this last week prior to the Dallas game, Tatum scored 75 points, including a 44-point effort in a 115-101 win over Charlotte.

This capped a five-game stretch in which the young superstar averaged 39.8 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting from the field.

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Tatum’s stellar play continued into the first-half on Sunday, scoring 17 points. And then, he was shut down.

Tatum was only 2-11 from the field in the second-half and did not get to the free throw line. He finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists.

The contributions from Marcus Smart continue, with another outstanding week in the books. Smart averaged 16 points and six assists per game this week. He also thrived on the defensive end, collecting five steals in a victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Smart, like Tatum, had his struggles against the Mavs. He scored 15 points and dished out seven assists. Smart was 4-12 from the field, which is close to his season average, but when he’s being asked to shoot the ball over ten times per game, it hampers the Celtics to an extent.

One Celtic who faced some adversity this last week was Jaylen Brown.

Brown struggled with his shooting touch, knocking down only 37 percent (20-54) the last three games, including a dismal 4-23 from deep. He was also only 7-12 from the charity stripe, failing to even get there against Dallas.

Certainly, there’s hope this is just a small hiccup for the usually steady Brown. He’ll definitely need to regroup quick, as the Celtics set out on a four-game road trip.

Boston Celtics: The week ahead

Three games are on the agenda as the Boston Celtics head to the west coast.

A total of 13 games remain this season for Boston (41-28) and they are still in a prime spot for the playoffs. They are currently in the fifth spot, one game behind the Chicago Bulls and four back of the top seed Miami Heat.

Honestly, if the Celtics can’t make it to the top spot, the fourth spot is an ideal situation if things continue as they are in the standings. Yes, home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs would be nice but — in a crystal ball world — a 1st-round match-up against the Bulls followed by likely the Heat would mean not having to face the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Of course, the standings are still very much in flux, with only seven games between the 1st and seventh seed, with the Brooklyn Nets lurking close behind.

First up is a road trip for Boston, starting with the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday (3/16).

Golden State defeated the Celtics by four back in mid-December. Al Horford did not play that game; a contest in which Boston was down by 14 at halftime but battled back to make a game of things.

Boston follows that up with a trip to Sacramento on 3/18. The Celtics defeated the Kings by 53 back on January 25, with Tatum and Brown combining for 66 points in limited action (Tatum played 31 minutes and Brown 24).

The week, and road trip game three of four, concludes with a contest at the Denver Nuggets (3/20) Boston won the first matchup, a six-point victory on February 11. Brown only scored 12 points on 4-17 shooting that game but Robert Williams III had one of his best games of the season with 15 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocked shots.

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A 2-1 week again would be something to aspire to, especially with formidable opponents Golden State and Denver on the agenda. The good news is that since a January 14 road loss to the 76ers, the Celtics are 9-2 on the road, winning those games by an average of 21.6 points. Meaning that a 3-0 week is entirely possible. To do that, Boston will need its defense in lockdown mode, and an offense regaining its balance, from Tatum on down the lineup.