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No answer for Nowitzki

Wallace has success, but fouls prompt run

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 19, 2010

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The Celtics were already playing their eighth straight game without Kevin Garnett, and the matchup problems that Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki creates didn’t help. Then, in the third quarter, the Celtics lost the only player in uniform who could give the 7-foot sharpshooter any trouble defensively.

Yes, Nowitzki had 15 points by the half, but “they were a tough 15,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, none of them came from 3-point range, and none of them came easy thanks to Rasheed Wallace, who knows the blueprint for bothering Nowitzki.

“You’ve got to get in his chest,’’ Wallace said. “Make him put it on the floor, make him feel uncomfortable with it.’’

But in the process, Wallace picked up three first-half fouls. With 5:16 left in the third quarter, Wallace picked up his fourth.

Minutes later, Rivers took him out, leaving Brian Scalabrine to do his best to try to stop Nowitzki from going off.

Nowitzki scored 13 of his 37 points in the third quarter, feasting on the Celtics when Wallace left. He went on an 8-0 run by himself, which ultimately gave the Mavericks a 71-68 lead they’d never relinquish, going on to win, 99-90.

“When Rasheed was in foul trouble, it made us smaller,’’ said Ray Allen. “Dirk was just shooting over top of us.’’

Wallace didn’t reenter the game until 8:54 left in the fourth quarter, and by then the Mavs were up, 83-75, owning every ounce of momentum. Dallas shot 80 percent in the third quarter, and 66.7 percent in the second half, when Nowitzki went 9 of 13 from the floor. The Celtics lacking a player that could rattle him, and also straying from their defensive game plan, only made Garnett’s absence even more evident.

“But Kevin’s not in, so I’m not worried about Kevin,’’ Rivers said. “He’s not in right now and everybody else is. And they know their jobs. The voice of Kevin, it always helps. But that voice isn’t there right now, and somebody else has to do it.’’

“Every game you play with Kevin is going to help, but that isn’t an excuse,’’ Paul Pierce said. “We got guys that are capable. Rasheed is a very capable defender. But it isn’t about the individual. It’s about the team. It’s about team defense, something we thrive on and hang our hat on.’’

Wallace questioned the call that sent him to the bench for that decisive stretch. But even though he scored only 4 first-half points on 2 of 7 shooting, his absence on the offensive end was just as important as the defensive end, because it gave Nowitzki a vacation on defense.

“If you look at all of Dirk’s games, where he went off a lot, he has to guard nobody on defense,’’ Wallace said. “He has to guard dudes that are like the fourth or fifth option.’’

As upset as he was about his team’s defensive lapse in the second half, Rivers was disappointed that they didn’t go to Wallace more, with Nowitzki sitting on two fouls.

“My point to the team was that, obviously Rasheed’s fourth foul was bad, but we never went to Rasheed in the third quarter to attack Dirk, who had his fouls,’’ Rivers said. “In the first half, the reason Dirk was struggling on offense was because he had to guard Rasheed all first half. He had to guard in the post. And we decided we wanted to play outside on the perimeter in the second half. We know better.’’

Without Wallace and Garnett, the Celtics found themselves out of options. Garnett is supposed to practice tomorrow and Thursday, with a possible return Friday, but until he comes back, the Celtics won’t use his absence as an excuse, even in a situation like last night, when his presence would have been vital.

“We’ve been without Kevin. We won games last year,’’ Pierce said. “We got the regular season where we won seven, eight, nine games in a row without Kevin. That’s not an excuse.’’

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