BOSTON -- Beggars can't be choosers. Given the choice between winning ugly and losing ugly, Celtics coach Doc Rivers gladly took the former.
While the Celtics have shown tremendous strides over their past five games, they had a 3-2 record to show for their troubles during that stretch. On Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, Boston regressed in many areas but dug deep and emerged with a not-so-easy-on-the-eyes, 117-115 double-overtime triumph.
It was the sort of win only a 12-9 team could love.
Even though Rivers scolded his team for mind-numbing miscues and head-shaking sequences that could have prevented this from being a 3-hour, 12-minute marathon, he likewise suggested he was encouraged by his team.
"I told our guys I was proud of them," Rivers said. "I thought we made some mistakes that, later in the year, we can't make down the stretch of games. You know, foul to give, didn't call a timeout, passed the ball so we couldn't advance it before first overtime. Those are plays that can't happen. But through all those mistakes, we still won the game. So as a coach, you'll take that."
You can win ugly in the winter so long as you clean it up by the spring.
Even after a jagged first half, it didn't have to be so hard for Boston. The Celtics used a third-quarter burst to open a 14-point lead. The Mavericks aided that cause by throwing the ball in the stands early and often -- - perhaps confused by seeing rehabbing Dirk Nowitzki sitting there -- while committing 28 total turnovers, which Boston turned into 34 points.
Dallas never led until Derek Fisher capped his team's comeback effort with a bomb of a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining in regulation. Paul Pierce answered and the Mavericks never led in overtime, but that didn't stop them from forcing two extra frames.
Boston wasted two opportunities to win at the buzzer. Rajon Rondo's step-back jumper at the end of regulation was blocked by Fisher. In overtime, Pierce tried to get up his trademark elbow jumper but was blanketed by Dahntay Jones and didn't even give it a chance.
Pierce, who scored a game-high 34 points and carried Boston's off-target offense, hit a big 3-pointer at the start of the second extra session and helped seal the win with free throws.
Then, he said the improbable.
"This is a good win, especially with the huge road trip coming up," Pierce said. "Our defense was kind of up and down throughout most of the night, but the positive part is we turned them over. We allowed them to shoot a high percentage, so it says a lot about how this team has grown when you can win games like this."
Across the hall, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle somehow found similar silver linings, showing just how crazy this game really was.
"Look at the stat sheet. What I am is encouraged," Carlisle said. "Because we got 28 turnovers and give up 34 points off turnovers, and to be in the game against this team is an encouraging fact."
As if to perfectly sum up the night, Carlisle offered, "We had our opportunities and I'm disappointed, but I'm not disappointed."
Rivers lamented running Kevin Garnett for 40 minutes, easily blowing past KG's typical 30-minute allotment by playing him throughout both overtime sessions. Garnett downplayed the extra time.
"I'd probably have been a lot more tired if we had lost," he said. "It was a good game, though. Both sides showed some resiliency. I thought it came down to execution. ... It was a good game."
Jason Terry embodied Boston's shooting woes, connecting on a mere 3 of 10 shots against his former squad. The Celtics shot 43 percent overall (43-for-100), missed 16 3-pointers (6-for-22, 27.3 percent) and were outrebounded 50-42. The Mavericks posted a whopping 60 points in the paint, and Boston offered little resistance as Mayo and Darren Collison attacked the hoop after halftime.
But Boston can clean that up later. The Celtics, desperate to cobble together a winning streak, have won two in a row. They have a chance to match their season high of three straight wins when they open a three-game road trip in Houston on Friday night.
For one night, it doesn't matter how pretty it was.
"These types of long games, these types of marathon games can be really draining on you," Pierce said. "I like the way we pulled through."
Rondo, maybe the torchbearer for winning above all else, took positives from Wednesday as well.
"It's a learning process still," he said. "We can take from this game that we won, which is positive. There are some things that we made some mistakes on. Continue to build, come in tomorrow, watch some film and get on the plane and head to Houston."
Let's hope Rivers puts something else on for the in-flight movie. Maybe a comedy. Watching this one again would be cruel and unusual punishment.
The Celtics should savor the win and burn the film. They got the victory; that's all they need to remember.