BOSTON — It could not have started any better for the Celtics last night, jumping out to a 15-point lead with 5:28 to go in the first half.
But then the injuries caught up to the C's like a stock car, and so did the Los Angeles Lakers.
With an ever-growing number of key players in street clothes with injuries, and the remaining players battling fatigue and fouls, Boston faded down the stretch on the way to a 92-86 loss to archrival Los Angeles just 11 days after besting the Lakers in LA.
"It definitely hurts when you don't have the normal guys to come off the bench and spell you," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "Certain guys played extended minutes, but that's no excuse when you go up by 15 points."
The mounting injuries clearly had a major impact on the C's last night, when at times it seemed they may not have five players to finish the game.
Who's here, who's not
Boston was without key big men Shaquille O'Neal (sore leg), Jermaine O'Neal (knee surgery) and Semih Erden (thigh) along with defensive specialist Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) AND backup point guard Delonte West (broken wrist).
To make matters worse, Pierce was sick enough that he had to sit out Wednesday's practice — and Nate Robinson played just 3:39 before leaving the game for good in the second period with a bruised knee.
"Obviously fatigue was a factor," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "One of our major concerns was Paul and Ray (Allen) couldn't get into foul trouble, and that's what happened."
Pierce was whistled for his third foul with 5:41 to go in the second quarter, and Allen was hit with his fourth foul with 6:42 left in the third.
Von Wafer was called on to spell the two stars, but he picked up his fifth foul with 1:17 left in the third, and did not see the court in the fourth. Foul-prone Kendrick Perkins, still working his way into shape in just his eighth game back following knee surgery, was hit with his fifth moments into the fourth, and left the game for good.
With so many big men out, the Green struggled for rebounds against the All-Star caliber trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, losing the battle of the boards 47-36.
New guy checks in
Proving how desperate the Celtics were for a healthy body, rookie guard Avery Bradley — just recalled from the NBA Developmental League — saw the court for just the 14th time this season. Reserve rookie Luke Harangody was the lone active player not to see the court.
With the starters force to play heavy minutes, the Celtics faded
against a far healthier Lakers squad, and a hot Kobe Bryant, out for revenge.
"They just executed and we couldn't get shots to fall," said Wafer. "It was tough out there."
Celts need a break
The NBA All-Star break — with its five day break — can't arrive quick enough for the Celtics, even if the Big 3 and Rondo are all headed to Los Angeles to take part in the festivities.
The battered and bruised C's have dropped 3 of 4, with a home loss to Dallas and a beating at the hands of lowly Charlotte to go with last night's defeat.
And it doesn't get any easier from here, with red-hot LeBron James and Miami arriving on Sunday and a meeting with New Jersey left before the break hits starting Wednesday.
With a west-coast trip awaiting after the break, it may only get worse for the Celtics if players do not heal quickly. And Rivers confirmed West would not return before the All-Star break, and Jermaine O'Neal and Daniels both are both out indefinitely.
Add to that the age of the Big 3, who just looked tired as last night went on, and it seems a long time ago that fans and the media raved about the depth of the Celtics.
" I don't think we fought hard enough through the adversity," said Rivers. "And we're great at that usually. Obviously we had a lot of adversity with the injury to Nate and foul trouble and lack of bodies, but we had enough players to play. I don't think we handled it well."