Nowitzki, Mavericks Crush Shorthanded Celtics

Dirk Nowitzki takes a shot against Chris Wilcox during Monday's Celtics-Mavericks game in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hmm… let’s see. The Celtics struggled badly with rebounds Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks. They also couldn’t move the ball offensively, find open shots or accomplish anything in the paint.

The Celtics played the Mavericks without Kevin Garnett (family matter), Brandon Bass (knee) and Rajon Rondo (two-game suspension). They lost to the Mavericks, 89-73.

For some reason, I can’t help but think the two previous paragraphs are related.

Nowitzki’s Double-Double Highlights Celtics Struggles

Without Garnett or Bass, the Celtics had few options for defending Dirk Nowitzki. Whoever Boston sent at Nowitzki, he made that defender look silly.

It didn’t matter if Nowitzki was in the low post, high post, top of the key, whatever. Nowitzki scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, including a run of 10 consecutive points in the second quarter. A particularly abusive move on Jermaine O’Neal highlighted that run.

Along with all those points came 16 rebounds and two blocks. The Mavericks out-rebounded the Celtics eight, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ five. They also out-scored the Celtics 32-18 in the paint, getting a solid nine points from reserve power forward Brandan Wright.

Wright scored an alley-oop bucket from reserve guard Jason Terry (16 points on 6-of-11 shooting) in the second, then added an emphatic dunk in the fourth. He also grabbed two offensive rebounds in the same possession, eventually kicking it out to Terry for a three-pointer that put the Mavericks up 40-26 in the second.

The Celtics showed moments of offensive consistency that led to moves in the paint, in particular a fast-break dunk by Ray Allen followed by a dribble-penetration from Paul Pierce that made it 44-34 late in the second. But overall the Celtics never looked in rhythm, throwing up crazy shots in the lanes or running anemically into defenders for easy blocks.

Pierce (20 points), Allen (15) and Avery Bradley (12) did their best, but with Bradley running the offense the Celtics lose most of the fluidity Rondo typically brings. And with so few second-chance scoring opportunities, the Celtics’ stiff, disjointed offense just meant more minutes on defense.

The Celtics didn’t lead at any point during Monday’s game. Their five-point deficit after one quarter became 10 after two and 17 after three.

Nowitzki Leaves in Fourth, Celtics Try Going Deep

Nowitzki exited the game with just over six minutes left in the fourth and his team up 85-61. The Celtics played the fourth quarter with desperation, going all-or-nothing with three-point shots. Of the 24 shots the Celtics took from behind the arch Monday, 12 came in the fourth quarter, and only four went in. The Celtics knocked down seven total treys.

The Celtics gave away far, far more possessions with this strategy than with their earlier “run around aimlessly and hope we get lucky” strategy, shooting 44 percent from two-point range but under 30 percent from downtown. And the Mavericks matched the Celtics’ three-point output, swishing seven of their own, including four from Terry.

E’Twaun Moore and Mickael Pietrus each scored two three-pointers for the Celtics. Pietrus drained his second from 29 feet away with a minute left in the third to make it 68-51 Mavericks. The Celtics got two more on a tip-shot from JaJuan Johnson, but Wright canceled it with a tip-shot of his own with 0.6 seconds left in the quarter.

Celtics’ Losing Streak Continues With No End in Sight

The Celtics have now lost their last four games, and six of their last seven. Between Garnett’s and Bass’ injuries that never seem to heal – recalling Shaquille O’Neal’s situation last year – and Rondo’s suspension further derailing his return to form, the Celtics have lost much of what made them at least competitive, if not actually good.

The Celtics can’t rebound. They can’t pass. They can’t score in the paint. They can defend, but only at the guard positions, and only for a little while. The bench barely exists (24 points on 29 percent shooting). And all the people best-suited to fix this are currently on the sidelines, leaving nothing but gaping holes for players like Nowitzki to slash through with ease.

Boston holds a two-game lead over Cleveland for the final playoff spot. The Cavaliers are 6-7 since their own four-game losing streak ended back in January, but they next play the Pistons and Hornets – two of the worst teams in the NBA.

The Celtics, meanwhile, will conclude the first half of the season against Kevin Durant and the Thunder Wednesday. They begin the second half against the Cavaliers, who if nothing changes could very well knock the Celtics out of the top eight.

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