The Celtics have endured some maddening losses during the 2015-16 season, and while Boston couldn't steal Monday's game against the Dallas Mavericks, it's unlikely to be the sort of game that keeps coach Brad Stevens up at night.
No, not after the Celtics spotted the Mavericks a 15-point lead while making just one of their first 15 shots over the first eight minutes of play and watched the Mavericks shoot better beyond the 3-point arc (47.1 percent) than it front of it (40.7 percent). Boston showed some fight in simply getting back into the game and forcing overtime, where Deron Williams made three huge shots, including two 3-pointers, before unselfishly feeding Dirk Nowitzki in the corner for what was essentially the dagger in Dallas' 118-113 triumph at American Airlines Center.
The Celtics stand to collect the Mavericks' first-round pick in June (top 7 protected) and Williams' exploits Monday might help nudge that pick toward the low 20s. But, if nothing else numbs the sting of Monday's loss, then Celtics fans should look at it this way: At least Williams, set free by the Nets this summer, isn't helping Brooklyn to any wins. The Nets, who lost their 31st game Monday in Toronto, own the third-worst record in basketball and will deliver their unprotected first-round pick to Boston in June.
The Celtics own the third-best 3-point defense in the league, limiting opponents to 32.1 percent shooting beyond the arc (tied with the Knicks). But on Monday, four Mavericks players made at least three triples apiece, including Chandler Parsons (4-for-6, made triple to start overtime) and Nowitzki (game-high 31 points).
Stevens told reporters in Dallas after the loss that the Mavericks created most of their 3-point looks with quality ball movement and finding open shooters after initial pick-and-roll actions. As Stevens noted, "They had us scrambling and those guys made big shots."
The Celtics can find positives in the success their small-ball lineups had in the second half fueling a rally from as much as 17 points down. Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas struggled mightily in the first half, but each had their moments in the second half -- Thomas scored 18 points after the intermission and added seven assists; Crowder scored 12 points and made three clutch free throws in the final seconds to force overtime.
Marcus Smart had one of his most efficient nights off the bench, putting up 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and only one turnover in 38:36. Kelly Olynyk put up 17 points while connecting on 5-of-6 3-pointers. Olynyk was a staggering plus-27 in plus/minus over 26 minutes.
Celtics fans likely will be eager for a glimpse at the league's last two-minute report to see if any calls went the wrong way (including a possible double dribble on Zaza Pachulia in the closing seconds of regulation), but Dallas fans will counter that Boston got a friendly whistle when Raymond Felton fouled Crowder beyond the 3-point arc with 6.7 seconds remaining.
The real challenge for Boston is rebounding from the loss. The Celtics, whose three-game winning streak was snapped by the Dallas defeat, visit Toronto on Wednesday before returning to Boston to host the Chicago Bulls. That's a tricky three-game slate for a team that's desperate for some consistency.
But, at least for one night in Dallas, the Celtics can simply tip their caps to the Mavericks and embrace that it might have been more of what the Mavericks did than what Boston didn't do in this loss.