[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile most basketball fans tuned into the second day of what is sure to be an electrifying NCAA Tournament, the Celtics (36-32) continued to struggle. For the first time since Rajon Rondo tore his ACL on January 27th, this team has lost three straight contests, and they appeared particularly out of sync during Friday night’s loss in Dallas. Boston is now 12-22 on the road this season and has regressed back to seventh place in the Eastern Conference with only 14 games remaining on it’s schedule.
Jason Terry received a standing ovation from Mavericks fans when he checked into the game as a visiting player for the first time. However Terry, along with most of the C’s players, failed to connect on virtually any outside shots. He finished with eight points on 3 of 9 shooting from the field, missed both of his three point attempts, and turned the ball over three times. The Celtics shot 29 percent from downtown (5 for 17), which is another low-mark in the past couple months.
Yet the offense wasn’t the only reason that they lost. The Celts simply could not guard the Mavericks (33-36) in pick and roll situations. Mike James and O.J. Mayo forced the C’s big men to switch on high screens, and they were able to combine for 15 assists, most of which came on simple dump downs to a screen-setter that was diving to the cup. Dirk Nowitzki finished inside and out in these situations, but Brandan Wright really feasted on the lack of defensive rotations, scoring a season-high 23 points on 11 of 16 shooting from the field.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce each scored 16 points, while playing well in defeat. Brandon Bass continued to play aggressively on both ends of the floor, and Jordan Crawford came off the bench to provide an offensive spark that nearly got the C’s back in the game. But every time they made a push, the Mavericks were able to respond on the other end.
Boston trailed throughout the game, appeared a step slower than the opposition, and (uncharacteristically) did not execute as well as the Mavs were able to on the offensive end. Part of that had to do with the play of Jeff Green, who has underwhelmed in back-to-back contests after erupting for 43 points against the Heat on Monday night. Green had 13 points against the Hornets on Wednesday (11 of which came in the first quarter) and he only managed to score 10 points on Friday night while committing five turnovers.
He also did not get to the charity stripe, which is notable considering Green is averaging 3.1 free throw attempts per game this season. Perhaps the 6-foot-9-inch forward is drained after his amazing performance on Monday, or maybe he was distracted because a 15-seed stunned his alma mater (Georgetown) in the ‘second round’ of the NCAA tournament right before the C’s tipped off. Most likely, opponents have increased their defensive preparation with regards to Green and are now making him more of a priority in their game plan.
It’s not a secret that Uncle Jeff likes to go to his right. His combination of size and speed allows him to blow by slower defenders and finish at the rim, but now those angles are being cut off. He has done an admirable job adjusting to the extra attention, and managed to garner four assists against the Mavericks by kicking the ball outside to an open man. Yet without Green’s offensive punch, the Celtics will have a tough time competing with any team that is capable of putting up 100 or more points against them.
For Boston, this road trip can’t end soon enough. They got onto a plane to Memphis directly after the game, and will have to take on a hard-nosed Grizzlies team that is 17-6 since they traded Rudy Gay at the deadline. It’s more important that the Celts come into the playoffs healthy rather than exhaust themselves with a push for home-court advantage, but they don’t want to back into the postseason playing like this.