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Mavericks 89, Celtics 73

Celtics become unglued

Shorthanded, they get taken apart by Mavericks

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 21, 2012
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DALLAS - It reached a point last night at American Airlines Center at which the Celtics were just trying to run an offensive play without a turnover. Or keep a big man healthy. Or stop the Mavericks from rebounding virtually every one of their misses.

None of that occurred in what turned into a disastrous night for the Celtics. With Rajon Rondo (suspension) and Kevin Garnett (family matter) already out, Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox left the game with injuries and the Mavericks destroyed the Celtics, 89-73.

In season that already has had more low points than in the past four years combined, the Celtics were embarrassed again on national television. Coach Doc Rivers used every available player in an attempt to retain respectability.

The Celtics were going with four guards and a forward at times in the second half, even five guards at a time. Winning was out of the question, but the Celtics wanted to provide some type of resistance.

Amazingly, they are still eighth in the Eastern Conference, but nearly halfway into the season they are hurting, and the main objective is holding on for reinforcements.

“Tonight, if we could have stole the game, it would have been great,’’ Rivers said. “Playing five guards, we just tried to mess the game up. That was our intention going in and we actually did but we just couldn’t make shots. That wasn’t surprising.’’

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 26 points and 16 rebounds in 30 minutes as the Mavericks took turns gashing the Celtics’ overwhelmed defense. Boston never led, trailed by 10 at halftime, and the Dallas lead reached 24 in the third quarter.

It was the Celtics’ sixth loss in seven games.

Last night was difficult enough without Garnett and Rondo, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension for tossing the ball at official Sean Wright Sunday night against Detroit. O’Neal then became the third unavailable starter when he departed with 9:38 left in the third quarter with a strained left wrist.

A short time later, Wilcox was laboring near the Celtics bench and left with a strained right adductor muscle. Paul Pierce (20 points) and Ray Allen (15) tried carrying the offense, but Rivers eventually sat them early in the fourth quarter.

The Mavericks, as would be expected, swarmed Pierce and Allen, knowing the Celtics lacked a legitimate third scoring threat. Against double teams, Pierce and Allen combined for their 35 points on 13-for-28 shooting. The rest of the Celtics were 16 of 46 from the field for 38 points. “It’s real tough when you’re put in those situations, but we have a lot of pride, we have to continue to go out there and compete and show improvement,’’ Pierce said. “If I was on the other team, I’d [double team] too, especially when you don’t have guys like Kevin and Rondo out there [and] Brandon [Bass]. We just have to figure out ways to get other guys involved. Other guys gotta be ready to step up.’’

Nowitzki scored 21 of Dallas’s 44 first-half points. Pierce and Allen scored the final 11 points of the first half for the Celtics to keep it respectable at 44-34.

But the Celtics could not score easy baskets with no post presence. Rivers desperately needed Wilcox to perform, but he picked up three early fouls and finished with 2 points and 1 rebound before leaving.

It was apparent from the tip that the Celtics would struggle to score without their top playmaker and best perimeter-shooting big man. Avery Bradley, playing in front of some University of Texas supporters, drained three of his first four shots, but he did not record an assist until there was 5:51 left in the game.

Reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus led the Celtics in assists (4) and rebounds (12). He was the lone Celtic with more than five boards, while the Mavericks countered with 12 offense rebounds.

It was the 15th time in the past 16 games the Celtics have allowed an opponent double-digit offensive rebounds. Rebounding, however, is just one of their issues. They are besieged with injuries while their All-Star caliber point guard cost himself two games at the worst possible time.

“I’ve been in these types of situations before and this is a time for all of us to circle the wagons and come together and figure out what we can do to be better,’’ Allen said. “It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about learning how we can be better as a unit. I thought we gave great effort, but we were just shorthanded.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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