By A. Sherrod Blakely
PHOENIX The streak continues.
Paul Pierce, one of only two Boston Celtics (Ray Allen is the other) to start every game this season, will be in the starting lineup tonight against the Phoenix Suns.
Pierce suffered what team officials described as a right thigh bruise against Portland on Thursday.
He left the game with about two minutes to play, and it was unclear if the injury would prevent him from suiting up tonight.
In addition to Pierce, the Celtics also welcome back Shaquille O'Neal.
O'Neal, who will start tonight, has missed the last three games with a sore right hip injury.
Shortly after the injury, both O'Neal and the Celtics targeted tonight's game for his return.
But don't get too used to seeing O'Neal on the floor tonight.
C's coach Doc Rivers said O'Neal will play limited minutes.
There's no timetable for when his backup, Kendrick Perkins, will replace him in the starting lineup.
"He'll start whenever we get to the point where we feel he can play not only 30 minutes, but 10 minutes in a row without any problems the next day," Rivers said. "I don't know when that's going to come."
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.
BOSTON – As Isaiah Thomas walked off the TD Garden floor Monday night in the fourth quarter of the Celtics' 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the All-Star guard’s franchise streak of 43 games with 20 or more points scored was about to end.
Credit the Hawks, whose defense made life miserable for Thomas most of the game, limiting him to 4-for-21 shooting (19 percent) which stands as the worst shooting night for Thomas as Celtic when he has taken at least 10 shots from the field.
Thomas chalks up his struggles Monday as just one of those bad nights that comes from time to time in an 82-game season, but it’s part of what has been a stretch of inefficient shooting games for him.
And it’s not a coincidence that the Celtics (38-22) have lost three of their past four at the same time Thomas finds himself in one of his worst four-game stretches for shooting the ball this season.
In fact, Thomas has shot just 35.4 percent from the field in Boston’s past four games. In that span, he has made less than 45 percent of his shots in each game, which is only the second time this season he has had a four-game stretch like that.
And while defenses certainly give him more attention than any other Celtic, he’s still getting to the spots he wants to get to while taking the shots that are best for him.
The only difference of late, is that more shots are off the mark than previously.
“I missed a lot of shots in the paint. I got where I wanted to,” Thomas said. “That wasn’t just me; that was our team. We missed a lot of shots we normally make.”
Which is why there’s no sense of panic or heightened concern on the part of the Celtics heading into their game Wednesday night against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown was quick to credit Atlanta for doing a good job defensively against the Celtics.
But he too recognized that at times they were their own worst enemy with all of the blown opportunities.
“We missed a bunch of easy shots and I think that is just focus,” Brown said. “We’re not going to hit every shot every game, but I do expect us to play a little bit better than what we did and I think we’re more capable of being a bit more locked in. It happens; you just got to forget about it and bounce back Wednesday against Cleveland.”
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