Celtics have the answer
Tested by Bobcats, they come up with right response
The customary silence came over the TD Garden crowd as D.J. Augustin stole two inbounds passes, Stephen Graham drove the baseline uncontested for two layups, and Boris Diaw cashed in backdoor passes for layups.
The Bobcats became the latest team to obliterate a double-digit Celtics lead within minutes. It was the second quarter and the Celtics had already blown a 17-point lead.
But the Celtics, in an uncharacteristic move of late, countered with a run of their own to end the half and maintained that momentum into the third quarter.
So by the fourth, the crowd wasn’t relegated to yelling at Doc Rivers for lineup changes. They merrily enjoyed a rare home blowout and, of course, a Gino appearance with 5:31 left.
Getting a gritty win Tuesday at Detroit was one step, but the Celtics realized it would mean little without a victory over the Bobcats. And they cruised to a 104-80 win, holding Charlotte to 36 percent shooting.
Paul Pierce was sparkling, recording his first 20-plus point game since scoring 35 against the Hawks Jan. 29. He scored 27 points in 27 minutes, draining four 3-pointers, and Nate Robinson sparked a 16-0 first-half run with three consecutive 3-pointers.
For once, the Celtics enjoyed a laugher, their first double-digit home win since defeating Minnesota, 122-104, Dec. 20. In the past two months, the Celtics have struggled against inferior opponents (Nets, Bulls) blown big leads against elite teams (Cavaliers, Magic), and have been beaten in the final minute (Lakers).
The Celtics improved to just 17-11 at home compared with 21-10 on the road, which is second-best in the NBA to Cleveland (22-10).
“It’s a start,’’ Pierce said, still not convinced the Celtics are confident enough at the Garden. “We haven’t had a game like this in a while. We need to come out each and every game like this. If we just played a little bit better at home, we’d probably have the best record in the league. This is a place we have to establish ourselves.’’
A 20-7 run to begin the third quarter turned a 9-point halftime lead into a 22-point cushion and the offensively-challenged Bobcats had no answer.
Last night turned out to be a best-case scenario for Rivers, whose team was on the second of back-to-back games. Ray Allen logged just 18 minutes and Kevin Garnett (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) played just 25 minutes. The Celtics expected a rugged game since Charlotte was well rested, but the Bobcats looked eerily similar to the team that scored a franchise-low 59 points here Oct. 28.
But that team was without Stephen Jackson, who was still stewing in Golden State. He was supposed to be a difference-maker but last night he was more talk than execution.
Jackson was uncharacteristically quiet offensively until the third quarter, when he drew Allen’s fourth foul, a slap on the wrist that could be heard in the lower bowl. Jackson, frustrated with the officials, began screaming at Pierce, who was waiting outside the key for Jackson to attempt free throws. The two had to be separated and both were assessed technicals.
Other than Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics haven’t been involved in many confrontations with opponents this season, but Pierce didn’t back down when confronted by Jackson, a known hothead and trash-talker.
“I just thought that Ray was playing good D on [Jackson]. I didn’t think it was a foul on him and I was just saying, ‘Good D Ray,’ ’’ Pierce said. “You know Stephen, he is just a fiery guy. That is just how he is. He is a competitor. It was just both of our competitiveness coming out.’’
But in retrospect, Pierce said the Celtics need to be tougher and meaner. This year’s crew has hardly been intimidating. It started back in November in Indiana when the Pacers’ Dahntay Jones practically laughed off trash-talk by Garnett and Pierce and burned Boston for 25 points in a victory.
“I think we need to do that more,’’ Pierce said of imposing his will. “That’s who we are truthfully. We’re a team that usually intimidates the other team, pushes them around, talk trash. You guys know, that’s who we are and I think we have to be that way.’’
The play did nothing to spark the Bobcats, who were constantly flustered by the Celtics defense, which allowed Charlotte to run one play with success: a backdoor cut.
Meanwhile, Robinson is beginning to flourish as a spark plug off the bench. After tallying 14 points in 15 minutes Tuesday, Robinson canned two 3-pointers in the final 29.3 seconds of the first period, the final one swishing through at the buzzer for a 31-21 lead.
Big leads mean little to the outcome because the Celtics have been blowing double-digit leads, and a 38-21 advantage quickly became 42-39 after Charlotte rolled up 10 straight points, mostly off silly turnovers.
The question was how the Celtics would respond to the forearm shiver they took from the Bobcats. Unlike previous games, the Celtics responded with an uppercut of their own, ending the half on a 9-2 run and going back to their effective ball movement after Rivers insisted the starters build the lead back.