for this game

Pierce outduels Nowitzki, leads Celtics to comeback win

Feb 13, 2009 - 7:08 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- Three days before they take the floor as All-Stars, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki certainly looked the part. But it was the Finals MVP that came out on top.

Pierce outdueled his counterpart Thursday night, scoring 18 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Boston Celtics to a come-from-behind, 99-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

"That's been Paul all year. Whatever we need, he provides," Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He got going and he's tough to guard in the middle of the floor. Once he got rolling, it's tough to stop him."

The superstars will square off once again - and will likely get each other as defensive assignments - in the All-Star Game on Sunday. But there was more than enough star power to go around in this one. Nowitzki's 3-pointer with just under two minutes to play tied things up, but Pierce drew contact on the other end and buried a pair of free throws.

Nowitzki responded with a 12-foot fall-away in the lane, but Pierce answered from the same distance on the following possession. His biggest play of the night, however, may have come on the defensive end, as he drew a foul on Nowitzki just seconds later.

"What we try to do is make him work as much as we could and we wanted to challenge all his shots, keep him off the free-throw line, make him take the contested two," Thibodeau said.

Pierce followed with his best Nowitzki impression, fading away for a 15-foot dagger to help put the game on ice. He finished 9-of-20 from the field and 13-of-14 from the field.

"In the fourth quarter, I started to get a rhythm and the guys were going to me at the top of the key," Pierce said. "We had a play that was working, we just milked it. We spread the floor and I thought I had the advantage."

The victory was the Celtics' ninth in the row on the road and second in as many nights, having outlasted the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. They came out sluggish in this one and seemingly needed a bit of a push to even have a chance to stop the Mavericks, who came into the night winners of six of their last seven.

That push finally came in the third quarter - thanks to a bit of physical play and some controversial officiating that caused some chippiness between Nowitzki and Boston superstar Kevin Garnett.

With Boston trailing and just under 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the third, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year was whistled for two fouls in an 11-second span while guarding Nowitzki - giving him five fouls for the night with more than a quarter left to play.

The first foul seemed to upset the Celtics enough as it was, but the second one sent Celtics head coach Doc Rivers over the top. He was given two whistles of his own, earning back-to-back technicals and getting ejected.

"Knowing the game, we've still got to play," Celtics guard Ray Allen said. "He's trying to make a point, and the coaches are more than capable that we have on the bench. It definitely worked out in our favor because we ended up winning the game."

Even with their emotional leader on the sidelines with foul trouble and their coach back in the locker room, the Celtics took advantage of the situation, storming back in the fourth quarter. They slowly cut into what once was a double-digit lead for Dallas, finally surging ahead when Pierce went on an 8-0 run by himself to push Boston ahead, 87-84.

"I think it gave us a nice little spark," Pierce said of Rivers' ejection. "It can go one of two ways - you can say the coach is out of the game and it's the last game before the All-Star break and you can pack it in, or it's, 'What are you going to do, guys?' But knowing this group, this group is very competitive."

Before Pierce caught fire down the stretch, it was point guard Rajon Rondo who carried the load for the Celtics, recording his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 15 boards and 14 assists. However, he also committed six of the team's 19 turnovers.

"Fabulous. He did everything tonight," said Thibodeau, who took over after Rivers' ejection. "He ran the team, played great defense, his rebounding - he had 43 minutes, so he played a complete game. That was huge for us."

Nowitzki led all players with 37 points, but the Mavericks found few other scoring options to supplement their go-to guy's outburst. The team is already without Jason Terry, who is out with a fractured finger in his left hand. Josh Howard struggled from the floor, hitting just 6-of-19 before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

"We just settled. We had some great looks, some went in and out and if those go in, maybe it's a different ballgame," Dallas point guard Jason Kidd said. "But they're a defensive team that makes you take tough shots and you give them credit. But we were right there, we had a great opportunity and we let it get away."