Paul Pierce scored 18 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter on Thursday as the Boston Celtics rallied for a 99-92 victory over Dallas to go into the All-Star break on a high note.
Pierce, the Most Valuable Player of last season’s National Basketball Association Finals, outdueled counterpart Dirk Nowitzki, who is also scheduled to take the floor in the All-Star game mid-season exhibition tomorrow.
Nowitzki’s three-pointer with just under two minutes to play tied things up, but Pierce drew contact on the other end and sank a brace 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.
Pierce’s biggest play of the game, however, may have come on the defensive end, as he drew a foul from Nowitzki just seconds later.
He followed with a fade-away of his own to help seal the win.
The triumph was the Celtics’ ninth in a row on the road and second in as many nights, having outlasted the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday.
They started slowly against a Mavericks team that came into the contest having won six of their last seven games.
The Celtics got a push in an emotional third quarter that saw physical play, tension between Nowtizki and Boston star Kevin Garnett and some controversial officiating.
Boston trailed with less than two-and-a-half minutes to play in the third quarter when Garnett 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 appeared to irk the Celtics and the second sent Boston coach Doc Rivers over the edge.
He was slapped with back-to-back technical fouls and ejected.
Even with their coach off the floor and Garnett on the sidelines with foul trouble, the Celtics surged back in the final period.
They chipped away at what had been a double-digit lead for Dallas, taking the lead when Pierce went on an 8-0 scoring run of his own that put the Celtics up 87-84.
Until then, point guard Rajon Rondo shouldered the load for the Celtics, recording his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists.
In other games it was:
• Miami 95, Chicago 93
• Golden State 105, Portland 98