Tonight two of the top prospects of the 1998 NBA Draft met for the 23rd time of their respective careers. Over time, there has been much deliberation as to who has had the more successful career of this duo, Paul Pierce or Dirk Nowitzki. Pierce has stated on countless occasions that his slide in the ’98 draft has fueled him become the player he is today. Though I’ve never heard Dirk comment on the matter himself, I can only assume that he was supremely appreciative just to have a chance to play in the NBA. No one can truly ever understand how talent will translate from college to the pros, but it is far harder to quantify that leap from overseas to the National Basketball Association. Dirk was selected 9th in that draft, and Pierce 10th. Though their positions and styles of play vastly differ, the two have been closely linked for as long as they’ve been in the league. Both are offensive juggernauts. Both are widely regarded as premier players. Both have shared an immutability in this league that not many others have. They both, along with Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, share the distinction as the longest tenured players for one team in the NBA. And up until two short seasons ago, both faced the harsh criticism of having ring-less fingers.
In the individual match-ups, Dirk has gotten the better of Pierce. Dirk has averaged an astonishing 27.4 points per game versus the Celtics, his best against any of the 29 teams in the league. To add to that, he has also averaged 8.9 boards per game (above his career avg) and has won 16 of the 23 match-ups in his career vs. the C’s. Pierce has averaged 22.5 ppg and 5.9 rpg against the Mavs, getting the better of Dirk and company moreso in recent memory.
Tonight, however, stayed steady to the trend. In fact almost ironically so. The Mavericks bested the C’s by two points, earning a 89-97 victory in the waning seconds of the contest. The final shot was hit by none-other than Nowitzki, draining a 16 foot jumper with 17.4 left to play. Dirk notched a game high 25 points, one higher than his counterpart Pierce who netted 24 of his own. It appears as if Dirk simply has the wherewithal in this match-up, besting Pierce by one position in the draft and by one decisive point on this particular evening.
The Celtics entered the final 2 minutes of the game up by a count of 87-82 after a Pierce midrange jumper. From this point forward the C’s went ice cold, unable to tally a single point for the rest of the game. Dallas went on a 7-0 run to close it out, punctuated by 4 crucial points by Nowitzki, moving the Mavs to an even .500 at home on the season, and 4-2 overall. The loss drops the Celtics to 6-2 overall, snapping their momentum, as they carried a 5 game winning streak coming into the night.
The final score was not entirely indicative of the style of ball the Mavs regularly play, which is fast and reckless. The pace was certainly quicker than the C’s are used to on a nightly basis, but nothing that they couldn’t handle. Rondo orchestrated the offensive beautifully as usual, ending with 11 points, 15 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals. The gaudy stat-lines continue for Rondo as he tallied his 5th double double on the short 8 game season.
However, in terms of alarming statistics, several surfaced at the end of this one. It is no secret that the Celtics had trouble shooting the ball tonight, connecting on just 41.8% of their shots compared to the Mavs 50% even. What accounted for the Celtics ability to stay in the game were two distinct factors, turnovers and offensive rebounds. If there are two categories you expect the Celtics to lose on a regular basis, these are the precise two you would pinpoint. The C’s won the turnover battle (an extreme rarity for them) by a margin of 5, as the Mavs let go of the ball 17 times compared to the Celtics 12. The difference on the offensive glass was also glaring, as the C’s were able to wrangle 14 boards compared to the Mavs 4.
These two stats combined helped account for a total difference of 25 shots taken. No you did not read that wrong. The Celtics almost hit the century mark in shots tonight, hoisting 91 overall compared to the Mavericks 66. Normally you expect to win a game with that distinct margin. And normally you would be furious with a team that was unable to overcome a defect with those advantages. I, however, refuse to incriminate the Celtics tonight for their shortcomings. For a team that regularly fails to take care of the ball and hit the offensive glass, I am proud of those accomplishments, even if they are against a team that plays an entirely different brand of ball. The fact of the matter is that the C’s played their hearts out tonight and simply lost to an offensive powerhouse that turned it on in the closing moments of the contest. You cannot expect to win all tight games, and letting this one go to a quality team is nothing to cry about.
It’s also important to note the void in the Celtics front court at the present moment. With Shaq and Perkins already sidelined, tonight the Celtics also saw the fall of Jermaine O’Neal for the entirety of the 2nd half due to a sore left knee. The result was the complete and utter exhaustion of KG and Big Baby, as they both played nearly 40 minutes of ball, when they should be playing much closer to 30.
So while I normally am the village curmudgeon, more often than not finding myself overly critical of this team, tonight I simply refuse to air them out. Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett (18 pts, 15 rbs) played superb basketball, and each member of the bench was productive in the limited time they saw. Last night the Celtics took advantage of a lackadaisical Thunder squad, and all things considered were able to carry their energy over in an impressive fashion . They struggled in the first half, down 10 heading into the break, but refused to be put away that easily. I was expecting a major let down this evening, seeing as it was the 2nd night of a back to back, but came out a bigger believer than I went going in, even if it meant tacking another loss onto the record.
About the Author
Written by Michael Johnson
I am a recent graduate of Endicott College having earned my Bachelors Degree in Communications. I bleed green and will until I die. If you'd like to talk sports I'm available on facebook and my email address is Johnson3448@comcast.net. You can also follow me on twitter @johnsoncookie.