Celtics 104, Pacers 97

Celtics setting the pace

Victory at Indiana is their 40th of year

Paul Pierce, who had a game-high 28 points for the Celtics, uses a little elbow grease to work his way past Indiana forward Danny Granger. Paul Pierce, who had a game-high 28 points for the Celtics, uses a little elbow grease to work his way past Indiana forward Danny Granger. (brent smith/Reuters)
Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 13, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS - The Celtics became the first member of the NBA's 40-and-over club last night.

With a 104-97 victory over the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Celtics (40-9) became the first NBA team this season to win 40 games.

Only two Celtics teams have reached 40 wins faster; the 1964-65 Celtics were the fastest in franchise history, with 40 wins against only seven losses, while the 1972-73 team started 40-8.

"Half of me says it really doesn't mean anything," said guard Ray Allen. "Then the other half is like, 'You've never done that before, and I don't know how many teams have done that.' It's a great accomplishment.

"The first half of the season, a lot of teams will be talking about it. But it really doesn't get you anything. It gets teams to play harder against you. We've just got to get some rest during the [All-Star] break and be ready to buckle down."

Boston, which has won four straight, improved to 18-5 on the road and is now 6-2 without the injured Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce scored a game-high 28 points, nailed 10 free throws, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished 5 assists. Allen scored 23 points and nailed three 3-pointers, while center Leon Powe added 16 points and 9 rebounds.

The Celtics were without Garnett (abdominal strain) for the eighth straight game and center Kendrick Perkins (left shoulder strain) for the second in a row.

"Until those guys get back, we have to hold down the fort," Pierce said. "Different guys are stepping up."

The Celtics play their last game before the All-Star break tonight at TD Banknorth Garden against the Knicks. But coach Doc Rivers was more worried about a letdown against the Pacers than the Knicks, since his team was coming off an emotional 98-90 win over the reigning champion Spurs Sunday.

"After the game Sunday, both teams were up," Rivers said, "and so you were worried about coming in here tonight. I was very happy with the effort overall. I thought it was a team game."

The Celtics went into halftime with a 51-50 lead. Allen had 14 points and two 3-pointers at that time, while Pierce had 10 points. Boston shot 42.5 percent from the field in the first half while the Pacers shot 44.2 percent.

Rivers, however, felt the Celtics were too perimeter-oriented - mimicking the Pacers' style - as they missed 9 of 15 3-point attempts.

"I thought we were them," Rivers said. "They are known for taking outside shots. We came out just firing. Early on, Ray was hot. At the timeout, I said, 'Ray's hot, everybody else doesn't have to shoot a three. Let's try to get everyone else going to the basket.' "

The Celtics outscored the Pacers, 31-27, in the third quarter to take an 82-77 lead. Pierce scored 10 points and nailed two 3-pointers in the period.

The Pacers opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run and took an 86-84 lead on a 3-pointer by Shawne Williams with 9:21 remaining. The Celtics went to the line on four straight possessions and took a 90-86 lead after two free throws by Powe with 7:20 left. After Powe's dunk with 5:31 left gave the Celtics a 95-88 advantage, the Pacers called a timeout seconds later.

The Pacers sliced it to 95-94 after a Williams lay-in with 3:08 left. A Rajon Rondo bucket and two Pierce free throws gave Boston a 99-94 lead with 1:32 remaining and Pierce sealed the game by nailing a jumper with 52.1 seconds left.

The Celtics' 22-20 scoring edge in the fourth quarter included a 9-2 advantage in free throws. Boston also had only two turnovers in the second half and none in the fourth.

"This was definitely a winnable game," said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who had a team-high 18 points. "We let it get away at the end with a lack of execution and our usual letdown in the stretch. They're a good basketball team. They executed, defended, and deserved to win."

While it's the last game prior to the All-Star break, Rivers isn't worried about the Celtics being motivated against their heated rivals tonight. During the previous meeting in New York Jan. 21 (a 106-93 Boston win), Pierce and Knicks forward Quentin Richardson were ejected for trash-talking in what was a physical contest.

"We just have to make sure we concentrate on our team," Pierce said.

"I'm not worried about what happened last time between me and Quentin. I'm here to help my team win. I'm not going to turn it into a one-on-one with him. I'm out there trying to help my ball club win."

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