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Celtics look to West

Guard emerging as go-to option

DELONTE WEST Thrives on pressure DELONTE WEST Thrives on pressure

WALTHAM -- Delonte West isn't on the level of the late Dennis Johnson. But teammate Al Jefferson said the Celtics' present point guard has more in common with him than just hair color (red) -- specifically, a penchant for the big shot.

DJ's big shots are the stuff of Celtics lore, but as the current group of young Boston hoopsters has finally pointed its collective compass in a winning direction -- they're on a four-game winning streak entering tonight's clash with Yao Ming and the Rockets -- "Go to West, young man," has become a sound strategy.

West scored a career-high 31 points (to go with 10 assists) in Sunday's 124-117 double-overtime win over the Timberwolves, shaking off a scoreless first half to drop 16 points in the second and 15 more in the extra sessions. That followed his 15-point, 6-assist effort in a 96-88 OT win over the New Jersey Nets a day earlier. West sent that game into OT by drilling a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left.

"Every team needs a guy that just has the guts to do anything," said Jefferson. "I think Delonte is that guy. He's going to be that guy to come down and take the big shot and make the big shot. Kind of like the big shot DJ hit against the Lakers in the [1985] Finals. That's who D-West is. He's got a lot of heart."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said no one should be surprised at West's ability to produce pressure points.

"Delonte, since the day we put him on the floor, had that in him," said Rivers. "He's not scared to take a big shot."

The third-year point guard out of Saint Joseph's, who is averaging 17 points and 6 assists since the All-Star break, said he wants the reputation of being a clutch performer.

"It goes back to the days of playing on the playground where you would count down the clock -- three, two, one," said West, who has a game-winning jumper against the Charlotte Bobcats Nov. 8 to his name. "I always imagined myself hitting those shots.

"I practice taking the pressure shot. It's something that I thrive on. That's one of the things I want to be known as, a player who hits big shots."

West's willingness to step up and give Boston a go-to guy besides Paul Pierce in crunch time is rooted in his competitiveness. Few in the organization took the team's franchise-record 18-game losing streak harder than West.

"It hurts whenever you lose a game," he said. "I take everything personally. I'm a very competitive person. When I'm with my brother at home, we compete in everything. I hate to lose, and I want to be one of those guys who, at the end of their career, they have a ring on their finger."

The night the Celtics snapped the record losing skid, West made it a point to tell his teammates not to celebrate. That attitude led team owner Wyc Grousbeck to call West an example for the entire squad.

"He was right: We didn't have nothing to celebrate," said Jefferson. "We're on a four-game winning streak now and we still don't have nothing to celebrate.

"We can be proud of how we've been playing and build off that, but walking around like [we're] Detroit, we can't do that. That's another thing about D-West: He's going to say the right thing at the right moment."

It is West's fiery nature that often leaves him hobbled. He played in just 39 games his rookie season and missed 11 last year. This season, West, who is averaging 11.7 points and a team-high 4.6 assists, has missed six games, five related to back woes. Rivers acknowledged yesterday that West is playing at less than 100 percent.

Rivers also said West is still learning to balance his own offense with being a playmaker. Rivers actually ripped into West at halftime of the T-Wolves game because he felt he wasn't being aggressive enough offensively, among other things.

"I guess he showed me in the second half," said Rivers.

West is showing everybody.

The Celtics want to remind fans that the start of Sunday's game against the Bulls has been moved to 6 p.m. It was originally scheduled as a 3:30 start.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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