BOSTON -- That three-game losing streak the Dallas Mavericks limped through to start the season seems like such a distant memory now.
Especially the way they handled the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night.
With coach Rick Carlisle back in the dressing room after he was ejected early in the third quarter, the Mavericks knuckled down on defense and stymied the Celtics while grinding out a 90-85 triumph. The victory capped the Mavs' first three-game winning streak of the season and the first time they've topped the .500 mark this season at 6-5.
And it didn't come easy.
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In fact, it was Dirk Nowitzki who had to muscle his way through three Celtics defenders to score the winning basket. On the play, Nowitzki tossed the ball high in the air after he was mauled by Brandon Bass, and the ball somehow made its way through the basket. The bucket and subsequent free throw by Nowitzki snapped an 85-all tie and put the Mavs ahead 88-85 with 5.1 seconds left.
"In the second half (Kevin Garnett) really fronted me and denied me, pick-n-roll, he was on top of me all the time, and I really couldn't get any clean catches," Nowitzki said. "So there at the end, Jet [Jason Terry] set a good screen, and I was able to get a little separation and at least get a catch. I was able to get to the rim, and I didn't even see the ball go in, to be honest. I saw the contact and threw it up there, and I was real lucky the ball went in.''
The Celtics had one last shot to force overtime. Rajon Rondo, however, bounced the inbounds pass off Ray Allen's leg near the Mavs' bench, and it fell harmlessly out of bounds with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Terry (18 points) then made a layup to close out the scoring as the Mavs ended this brief two-game road trip with a 2-0 record.
Referee Bill Spooner tossed Carlisle less than two minutes into the second half when the Mavs' coach ran onto the court to object to the bear hug Carlisle thought Garnett was consistently doing on Nowitzki.
From there, assistant coach Terry Stotts took over and the Mavs immediately went on a 24-6 run to turn a 47-42 deficit into a 66-53 lead late in the third period.
The Mavs were playing the second leg of a back-to-back, while the Celtics hadn't played since Friday.
On the game-winning play, Delonte West, who scored 12 points, said: "[Nowitzki] ran over to me and said, 'I'm going to get this game for us.'"
Nowitzki, who scored 16 points and is just three points away from 23,000 points in his career, said he relishes moments when the game is on the line.
"I grew into those moments," Nowitzki said. "At first when I got in this league I wasn't really the player that I am now."
But he is now. And for the Mavs' sake, that's a good thing.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760