Celtics 95, Pacers 83

Defense crests as Celtics win

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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INDIANAPOLIS — There’s at least one philosophical difference between Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers. It comes up every time shots stop going down.

“He always says that when the ball’s not going in, it’s more mental than anything,’’ Garnett said. “I beg to differ . . . and Doc knows that.’’

But Rivers noticed something else about the offense before last night’s game.

Entering Conseco Fieldhouse to face the Pacers in their first game since losing to the Magic in Orlando on Christmas Day, the Celtics had shot less than 40 percent in each of their past two games and Rivers made it a point to show his players that with every clang, they started to let their defense sag, too.

He made them watch the film closely, in the hope that last night, when the offense seemed like it didn’t want to warm up, the misses wouldn’t matter.

The Celtics were supposed to be building something with every brick.

Garnett didn’t have the greatest touch early on. Neither did Nate Robinson. The Celtics missed 20 of their 36 shots in the first half. But their defense never took a minute off.

Knowing that the last thing on Danny Granger’s mind was passing, they made every shot the Pacer took a contested one, squeezing 16 misses out of him, and they held Indiana to 37.2 percent shooting in their 95-83 win.

As the season becomes more of a grind, Garnett said he’s preparing for nights when the basket seems tighter than normal.

“It’s going to be nights like this when the ball isn’t going in,’’ Garnett said. “Thank God we’re a defensive team. When we do let the defense fuel our offense, it’s a lot more fluid, a lot more natural. It’s just one of those things, man. When you’re not making shots, then you have to get stops — more probably than usual.’’

Eventually the offense came, even though an unorthodox Pacers team made it difficult.

“We were missing shots,’’ Rivers said. “And give them credit. I thought in the first half they were taking us out of our offense with their pressure, and we just kept playing defense, and then all of a sudden the shots started falling and our defense stayed and that’s when the game changed.’’

The Celtics outscored the Pacers, 29-16, in the fourth quarter, holding Indiana to 5-of-19 shooting (1 of 5 from 3-point range).

Paul Pierce, the only Celtic with a hot hand for much of the night, was on the bench for most of that fourth-quarter stand, but most of the damage he did in a 21-point, 7-assist, 5-rebound night (with no turnovers) came in a blink in the second quarter.

It started when he baited Brandon Rush into a stepback jumper at the left elbow, mockingly asking, “Oh, where you going?’’ In the next 1:28, he drove baseline and squeezed in a layup from an impossible angle, then he drilled a pair of threes.

The burst was a byproduct of playing just 3:58 in the first quarter because of two early fouls.

“I was upset,’’ Pierce said. “I picked up a couple fouls early. Second quarter, we were down, I just wanted to get into a flow, a rhythm, because at that point I hadn’t taken a shot. So, once I hit my first shot, I just felt like I was trying to get to the basket, trying to stay aggressive, and hopefully my team could feed off it and get back into the game.’’

Glen Davis scored 14 points off the bench and Ray Allen added 17, 10 in the fourth quarter, to help put the Pacers away. The Celtics picked up their 15th win in 16 games, shaking off the loss to the Magic that snapped their 14-game winning streak.

“The winning track is always a great track to be on,’’ Allen said. “You don’t want to be on that track where you’re losing and you’re going downhill fast. It’s a tough taste to have in your mouth.’’

Said Garnett, “A win’s a win, and any kind of way you’ve got to do it. Whether it’s shots not falling or playing more defense than offense — it’s what it is.’’

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