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Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Five from Afar: Mavs 89, C's 87

By Peter May

AP Photo/Mike FuentesDirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks held on for a win over the Celtics.
Five observations from afar after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Boston Celtics 89-87 Monday night at American Airlines Center.

BIGS TROUBLE?

Jermaine O’Neal managed only 11 minutes in the game before retiring to the locker room for the second half with a sore left knee. Shaquille O’Neal missed his fifth straight game with a sore right knee. We knew the O’Neal situation going into the season; Jermaine has a history of being injury prone and Shaq turns 39 in March. So you are rolling the dice with both of them. But both of them out before the Celtics have played even 10 games?

The possible good news in all of this is that neither player is seriously hurt and either, or maybe both, could be available to play on Thursday night in Miami. Then again, who knows?

The O’Neal injuries have forced Doc Rivers to give serious time to rookie center Semih Erden, who has been more than serviceable. He turned in another solid effort against the Mavericks after playing well against Oklahoma City. Now we know why Danny Ainge stocked up on bigs in the offseason. It’s like pitching. You can never have too much.

WHO DIAGRAMMED THAT LAST PLAY?

The Celtics’ execution on potential game-winning/tying plays last season left a lot to be desired. But what on earth was Boston doing in the final 17.4 seconds of Monday’s game?

Rajon Rondo was left alone to take a three-pointer. He should be left alone to take a three-pointer. He also shouldn’t take it, especially when he has room to drive and either get a hoop, get a foul or maybe get another assist. (He had 15 of them Monday.) But you don’t want him taking a three-pointer unless the horn is about to sound -- and it wasn’t.

The Celtics regained possession and still had a chance with 1.5 seconds left, but that play never really materialized unless you want Kevin Garnett taking a fall-away, turnaround jumper from the far corner with two Mavericks all over him. Doc Rivers said afterward that that particular play was “terrible.” He could have used that word to describe the final 17.4 seconds. It’s too bad for Rondo, who had 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in another solid outing. He just took one too many shots.

KG LOOKS LIKE THE OLD KG

Regardless of the outcome, the Celtics have to be pleased with the way Kevin Garnett is playing so far. He was all over the place Monday night with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while also doing a solid defensive job when paired against Dirk Nowitzki. Garnett and Rondo combined on three alley-oops, which seems like three more than they had all last year. Garnett also had a signature rejection on Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter of the game against the Thunder on Sunday night.

This was the second time this season that Garnett has logged 15 rebounds (he also had 15 against the Cavaliers.) OK, the Celtics are 0-2 in games in which he gets 15 rebounds and 6-0 when he doesn’t. Still, Garnett is averaging 9.6 rebounds a game which, if maintained, would be the most since he came to Boston. And he once again is anchoring a pretty good defense.

NUMBERS, NUMBERS, NUMBERS

How can a decent offensive team take 91 shots and score only 87 points? That was what the Celtics did in Dallas. Not only that, the Mavericks attempted only 66 shots. That’s a 25-shot differential. You take 25 more shots, you probably should win the game. But the Celtics settled way too often for perimeter jumpers, which partly explains why they scored so few on so many.

Also, the referees awarded the Celtics only seven free throws in the game while Dallas was given 20. When the jump shot isn’t falling, the usual offensive option is to take the ball to the basket. The Celtics didn’t do that and Nowitzki did.

And the operative numbers for the Mavericks game were not 2 in 2, as in back-to-back games. The flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas was 35 minutes. The operative numbers were 5 in 7. The Mavericks game was Boston’s fifth in seven days. And they had the lead in the final two minutes. They have a well-deserved two days off before the return match with Miami.

DEFENSE STILL RULES THE DAY

Yes, the Mavericks did shoot 50 percent, which is a certifiable no-no for a team that prides itself on defense. But the Celtics’ defense in the third quarter, which helped erase a 10-point halftime deficit and got them the lead, was sensational. The Mavericks scored 50 points in the first half. They had to rally to get 20 in the third.

The highlight of the defensive pressure in the period was a five-second violation against the Mavericks for failing to get the ball inbounds. And Jason Kidd was the inbounds passer!

The Celtics held the Thunder to 83 points and 42.7 percent shooting. Dallas scored only 89 points, albeit with the aforementioned shooting. Given the way Miami is defending, it’s probably safe to say that the first team to hit 80 on Thursday wins the game. Look for some serious D-FENCE!