Well-rested Pierce key to a Celtics second-half run

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Well-rested Pierce key to a Celtics second-half run

DENVER The stretch run is here and Paul Pierce finds himself in an unfamiliar place right now - well rested.

Pierce's strong play which catapulted the C's to victory in eight of the last nine games, came too late for it to affect the voting by the league's coaches for All-Star reserves.

So instead he rested up for what he anticipates will be a tough road ahead with nine of the C's next 11 games away from the Garden.

For Boston to make the kind of second-half surge that we saw last season, they will once again need big-game performances from Pierce.

And that's why him not being selected might actually be a blessing in disguise for both him and the Celtics.

"When you play so many games, sometimes mentally and physically you get fatigued," Pierce said. "But with the way we were playing, who knows? Maybe the guys wanted to keep going. But I felt at this point in the season, my body needed, our minds needed ... there's so much we've been going through with the injuries. The last one with Barbosa, it really took a toll on us mentally even more."

Barbosa suffered a torn left ACL and sprained MCL in Boston's 94-91 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 11. Prior to his injury, Rajon Rondo suffered a torn right ACL injury and was lost for the season. Sandwiched between the two injuries is Jared Sullinger who underwent back surgery that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But the Celtics as they have done throughout their recent string of success, spend little time thinking or talking about players who are unable to perform.

Their success hinges heavily on how well they can re-create the consistent play they enjoyed leading up to the break.

Things certainly broke right for the Celtics during the lockout-shortened season of 2012. At the break last season, the Celtics were 15-17 with 17 teams having had more victories at that point. But after the break, the C's became a dominate team, racking up more wins after the all-star break than all but two teams (San Antonio and Chicago).

It should come as no surprise that the lift Boston saw in terms of wins coincided with Pierce playing some of his basketball of the season.

Prior to the break last season, Pierce averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

Those are decent numbers, but sitting on a 15-17 record certainly did not do much to give anyone outside of the Celtics locker room much hope that things would turn around.

Did they ever.

The C's turn-around was fueled in large part by Pierce's ability to take over games more consistently.

Pierce's numbers after last year's All-Star break were an impressive 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

And while this team is completely different than last season's club, the keys to success then aren't all that different today.

"We just have to play our game, and that's defend, make it tough as we can on teams," C's Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We don't care that much about what other teams are doing. We care more about what we have to do, in order to win. That's the way we played before the break and that's the way we have to play now that it's over."

Bradley locked in during return to Celtics lineup vs. Hornets

Bradley locked in during return to Celtics lineup vs. Hornets

BOSTON – When you look at Avery Bradley’s growth this season, seeing the tremendous strides he has made offensively is clear.

But at the heart of Bradley’s game remains a desire to dominate a matchup as a defender, something that was alive and well on Monday as he made his return to the floor after missing the four previous games with an Achilles strain.

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Bradley’s defense would prove instrumental in Boston’s 108-98 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.

He was 2-for-9 from the field and played nearly 33 minutes against Hornets which is just a couple minutes under his season average of court time.

Usually he’s responsible for providing a boost at both ends of the floor.

But considering his long lay-off, it was clear early on that he was locked in defensively more so than looking to get back on track shooting the ball.

“You take any type of games off in this league, your rhythm and all that you gotta get it back,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder.

Even though his shots weren’t falling, Bradley was on top of his game defensively while guarding 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum who is six inches taller but never was a factor on Monday.

Batum finished with eight points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens liked what he got out of Bradley in his return to action.

“I thought he (Bradley) was great,” Stevens told CSNNE.com. “He did everything we needed him to do. We knew there would be a little bit of rust (shooting the ball), but that’s part of you playing your way back into it.”

As far as Bradley’s stifling defense on Batum, Stevens said, “You have to do that against Batum. I thought Avery did a really good job of that. It’s a hard matchup no matter what way you go. Batum, giving up inches to him. He (Bradley) was there on the catch all night.”

And as Bradley gradually gets back into a flow, he’ll regain the form offensively that made him one of the NBA’s better two-way players this season.