Celtics Hurting on Defense With Kevin Garnett on Sidelines

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Celtics Hurting on Defense With Kevin Garnett on Sidelines It remains to be seen how effective Kevin Garnett will be when he returns from a hyperextended right knee. But with each passing game, that return — in any form — becomes a bit more pressing.

Garnett's presence, or the lack thereof, has the power to transform.

"The voice of Kevin, yeah, it always helps," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said when asked if Garnett is missed. "He holds everybody accountable. That voice isn't out there right now and someone else has to do it."

Nobody seemed up to the task Monday night when Boston dropped its third straight game at home, crumbling once again in the second half in a 99-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Celtics fell to 4-5 since Garnett sustained the injury on Dec. 28 at Golden State, and they've shown a lack of defensive consistency without their stopper. The Mavericks were just the latest to take advantage of an up-and-down effort, turning a 12-point deficit into a seven-point lead in the third quarter alone.

Much of the damage in that stretch was done by Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 13 in the quarter and finished the game with 37. Of course, he would've been defended by Garnett, but instead drew Rasheed Wallace. When Wallace picked up his fourth foul in the third and was forced to the sidelines, Nowitzki knew the C's were out of options.

So, too, did Rivers.

"Rasheed defensively was doing a terrific job on Dirk," Rivers said. "Not having Kevin tonight, knowing Rasheed was our only other guy, that put us in a tough situation [when Wallace picked up his fourth foul]."

Nowitzki torched the Celtics' reserves over the closing moments of the third and again in the fourth, scoring 15 points in the eight-plus minutes that Wallace was on the bench.

Garnett, the 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, may return Friday against Portland, but that will depend on how he performs in practice the rest of the week. Boston, which entered Monday giving up the second-fewest points per game in the NBA at 93.7, has allowed 100.8 in games without him.

The C's insist it's no excuse, but within their words is a cry for help.

"We gotta understand we are a defensive team first, regardless of who we put on the floor," said Paul Pierce, who led Boston with 24 points. "We are a defensive team and that's what we have to understand with the guys that are out."

That reputation was built in large part by Garnett. Until he returns, even if he only provides another voice, the Celtics foundation remains shaky.

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