DALLAS For a number of stretches during Monday's 89-73 loss at Dallas, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers used the kind of lineups you'd only expect to see in practice. With a rash of injuries and players unavailable for non-basketball related reasons, Rivers has had no choice but to get creative with his roster. "If we could've stolen the game, it would have been great," Rivers said. "Playing five guards on the floor, we just tried to mess the game up."
And in doing so, it looked liked you guessed it, a big old mess.
Not having Kevin Garnett (personal matter) and Brandon Bass (left knee injury) hurt. Learning hours before tip-off that Rajon Rondo would be suspended for two games (he threw a basketball at an official in Sunday's loss at Detroit) only made matters worst.
What else could go wrong?
Injuries to Jermaine O'Neal (left wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) which has both players questionable for Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City.
It's obvious that all of those players being unable to play, were among the reasons for Monday's loss.
We identified a handful of other factors that might come into play in determining the game's outcome. We'll examine just how they played out in the Celtics' loss which drops them below-.500 for the first time since Jan. 29.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Dallas Mavericks are one of the best teams in the NBA at getting out the gates quickly. They average 25.8 points scored per game in the first quarter, which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. And the last thing the Celtics need to deal with is a team that comes out scoring early. One of the keys to the Celtics scoring defense being ranked No. 2 in the NBA, has been how they've handled themselves in the first quarter. Teams are scoring 22.8 points per game against the C's in the first quarter, which ranks eighth in the NBA in first quarter scoring defense.
WHAT WE SAW - Once again, the Boston Celtics defense came out playing well enough to give them a chance at winning. But scoring continues to be a major, major struggle for the Celtics as they could only muster up 15 first-quarter points while limiting the Mavericks to 20.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Jermaine O'Neal vs Brendan Haywood: O'Neal is coming off one of his strongest performances of the season with the Celtics, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with eight points while blocking five shots. With so few bigs available either because of injury or non-basketball related matters, the C's need JO to step his game up. Haywood doesn't present nearly as many challenges as Tyson Chandler (now with the New York Knicks) did last season, but he is a serviceable big man that if you're not careful, can cause problems either scoring or rebounding the ball.
WHAT WE SAW - Neither player made much of an impact tonight, although you'd have to give the nod in this one to Haywood. Not only did he have more points (4-0) and rebounds (8-3), he also did it in fewer minutes (17-19) which speaks to how he did a better job of maxing out his playing time in comparison to O'Neal who actually had to leave the game in the third quarter and was unable to return after suffering a left wrist injury. His status for Wednesday's game is uncertain.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Mickael Pietrus is a streaky player who can get hot at any time. The dude is overdue - WAY OVERDUE - to have one of those big scoring binge-type nights. Boston has lost five of its last six games. In that span, Pietrus has averaged 4.2 points while shooting 32.1 percent (9-for-28). And in his last three games, he's missed 11 of his 12 shots which includes missing all 10 of his 3-point shots.
WHAT WE SAW - This was a much better performance, but not because of what he's expected to do which is to make 3-pointers. Pietrus has the reputation of being a 3-point shooter who can defend. But he also showed that he can contribute on the boards as well, finishing with a team-high 12 rebounds. "Of course I can shoot, everyone knows I can shoot," said Pietrus, who was 2-for-6 on 3s Monday. "But I can help the team in other ways too, like rebound, block shots, other things besides scoring."
STAT TO TRACK- As has been the case in most of their games this season, turnovers will go far in determining whether the Celtics can pull off an upset tonight. Their turnover numbers this season mirror their struggles just to maintain their current middle-of-the-pack status. Boston averages 15.4 turnovers per game which ranks 19th in the league. The Mavericks are led by former Celtic Rick Carlisle, whose teams dating back to his days as the Detroit Pistons head coach, have always been strong defensively. The Mavs are forcing 15.9 turnovers per game which ranks ninth in the league.
WHAT WE SAW - Turnovers were indeed a factor, but not one that had a huge say in the game's outcome. Boston turned the ball over 17 times which led to 25 points for the Mavericks. However, the bigger issue was talent. The Mavericks had lots of it, healthy and ready to play. The C's have some, but a significant amount of it wasn't on the floor - or the American Airlines Arena for that matter.