for this game

Allen, Pierce guide Celtics past Mavericks

Feb 1, 2008 - 5:26 AM By Mike Petraglia PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) -- With All-Star Kevin Garnett out with an injury, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce put on an All-Star show of their own. And it was Pierce coming out on top as the Boston Celtics finally found a way to beat the Dallas Mavericks.

Pierce scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half while Rajon Rondo put back his missed jumper with 42 seconds remaining to lift the Celtics over the Mavericks, 96-90, on Thursday night at TD Banknorth Garden.

Ray Allen also scored 26 points and James Posey made four free throws, came up with a key steal and provided some tight defense on Nowitzki in the fourth quarter as Boston ended a seven-game losing streak to Dallas.

"You never know because late in the season, we're going to need these guys, and in playoff situations, these guys are going to be seasoned and getting the job done," Pierce said.

Nowitzki scored a game-high 31 points and Josh Howard added 19 for the Mavericks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.

"That was a fun game," Nowitzki said. "Obviously, it's a great atmosphere and it's great to have Boston back on the map. They're a fun basketball city. To go back and forth like that to the end was definitely great. Unfortunately, we fell a little short, and hopefully, we learn from this."

Both Pierce and Nowitzki were selected as Eastern and Western Conference All-Star reserves, respectively, prior to the game.

Boston (36-8) won its second straight game without Garnett, who sat out his third consecutive contest with a strained abdominal muscle.

"It's a big win," Pierce said. "Guys have been stepping up in (Garnett's) absence, making big plays for us. That's what we are going to need with the big guy out. This is a tremendous opportunity for a couple of other guys to get more minutes than they've been getting, develop confidence down the stretch."

Allen picked up the slack for Garnett in the first quarter, making six of his seven shots from the floor - including a baseline jumper that just beat the buzzer and put Boston up, 27-20.

With 13 points in the opening period, Howard kept Dallas in the game as Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavericks struggled from the field, converting just five of their 19 shots in shooting 26 percent.

But Dallas turned the tables in the second, making 10 of its 17 shots while holding Boston to 35 percent (6-of-17) from the field and forging a 44-44 halftime tie.

Allen finished the first half with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

Nowitzki, held to just seven points in the first half, warmed up in the third with 17, while Pierce did likewise for Boston with 13.

"Dirk started getting it going there, just disappointed we couldn't get him the ball there at the end," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "So hopefully, we'll be able to execute better and get him the ball because he really turned it on there in the second half."

The Celtics took a 58-48 lead on Rondo's runner with 7:16 left in the third.

But Dallas rallied with an 11-0 run, taking its first lead since the first quarter at 59-58 on Nowitzki's jumper.

The Celtics fought back in the fourth quarter, however, and neither team managed to build more than a three-point advantage until the final minute.

"We knew they still had a good team," Nowitzki said. "They beat Miami by 40 points and had a great chance to beat Orlando. They have some big guys that can step in and play for them."

Boston scored six points in those 60 seconds, and Jason Terry missed a running bank shot with 14 seconds remaining that would have tied the game for Dallas.

"We just couldn't finish it off at the end," Howard said. "It seemed like they had a scheme, something we're not used to seeing. We were able to figure it out towards the end. They just made a couple plays that we didn't make at the end. It's that simple."

The Mavericks made just four of their 22 attempts from three-point range.

"We weren't very aggressive offensively," Johnson said. "Too many jump shots. When we go 4-of-22 from three, that's not a good thing. So we just weren't as persistent as we should have been, but hopefully, we will be much more persistent the next time."