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."

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

BOSTON – You hear coaches and players often refer to the NBA as a make-miss league.

When summing up what happened in Boston’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sadly it was that simple.

Dennis Schroder led the six double-figure scorers for the Hawks with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Boston got many of the shots that they have been getting throughout this run in which they came into Monday’s game having won 11 of their previous 14 games.

The Celtics (38-22) have now lost three of their last four games. Life won’t get any easier for them with defending NBA champion Cleveland coming into town on Wednesday.

We have seen the Celtics make some miraculous comebacks under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, but Celtics fans understandably began hitting the exits with more than three minutes to play and Boston looking up at a 108-84 deficit.

Credit the Hawks defense which played with a greater sense of urgency, the kind you would expect from a team that had come in riding a three-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, Boston looked like the team that we have seen most of this season which relies heavily on their perimeter shooting to win games.

That’s not all that surprising against the Hawks whose interior defense is anchored by Dwight Howard.

Howard, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, also had a pair of blocked shots and altered many others.

But the Celtics spent a good chunk of the second half with Howard out of the game.

Howard, an absolute unstoppable force for the Hawks all game, picked up his second technical foul (an automatic ejection) for hanging on the rim following a put-back dunk with 4:03 to play in the third and Atlanta ahead 74-65.

He had picked up his first technical foul for shoving Al Horford earlier in the game.

But with Howard out, the Celtics still couldn’t take advantage of an Atlanta team that was much more vulnerable to dribble-drive penetration.

In fact, Atlanta began to pull away and took their biggest lead up to that point of the game, 84-69, following a 3-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. late in the third quarter which ended with the Hawks ahead 84-71.

And Boston’s struggles stemmed from their inability to make open shots.

For the game, the Celtics shot 39.1 percent from field which is a somewhat inflated figure considering the mini-run Boston's backups went on in the final minute or two of play.

Not even the usual high-scoring exploits of Isaiah Thomas could save the day.

The NBA’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter, Thomas had another sub-par night in the game’s final quarter of play.

He led the Celtics with 19 points, but only two came in the fourth quarter. And by failing to reach 20 points, Thomas’ franchise-record of consecutive games with 20 or more comes to an end at 43 straight.  

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Hawks hold decisive edge on the boards

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Hawks hold decisive edge on the boards

BOSTON – The return of Avery Bradley was a good thing for the Boston Celtics, but it wasn’t enough for them to control the action in the first half of Monday’s game against the Hawks who took a 51-47 lead into the half.

Bradley, who had missed previous 18 games and 22 of 23, had six points in the first half on 2-for-4 shooting.

The Celtics opened the game with a 7-2 spurt and led by as many as eight points (15-7) in the first before the Hawks begin to cut into Boston’s lead and eventually take their first lead of the night following a 3-point play by Paul Millsap with 4:20 to play in the quarter which put them ahead 18-15 as part of an 11-0 run.

Boston would regain the lead before both teams went into the second quarter tied at 24.

The second quarter saw Boston hit one of those scoring lulls that they go through from time to time.

But unlike last night’s win at Detroit when they went nearly four minutes without scoring, Atlanta’s offense did a much better job of taking advantage of Boston’s struggles.

Atlanta went on a 9-2 spurt in the second quarter capped off by a Kent Bazemore lay-up that put the Hawks ahead 35-31.

Boston rallied soon after with Bradley leading the charge.

Bradley drained a 3-pointer that cut Atlanta’s lead to 35-34.

A defensive stop by Boston led the way for an Isaiah Thomas lay-up that put the Celtics back on top, leading to the Hawks calling a time-out with 6:18to play in the half.

Atlanta tightened up defensively, doing just enough to go into the half with a four-point lead.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks.

 

STARS

Dennis Schroder

He really came out and set the tone for the Hawks, scoring eight of his 10 first-half points in the first quarter.

Isaiah Thomas

Atlanta did a nice job of blitzing Thomas and forcing him to pass the ball. But Thomas is a professional scorer so you knew it was a matter of time before he got going offensively. He led the Celtics with nine points at the half, in addition to dishing out five assists while also grabbing five rebounds.

Dwight Howard

The Celtics simply could not keep him from dominating play around the rim. He led all scorers at the half with 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.

 

STUDS

Marcus Smart

When the offense seemed to stall, it was Smart who kept the Celtics within striking distance in the second quarter. He had seven points at the half along with three rebounds and an assist.

Paul Millsap

He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (he missed six of his seven shots), but his presence was felt. He had five points at the half along with nine rebounds.

 

DUDS

Celtics rebounding

It really is an adventure when it comes to the Boston Celtics and rebounding the ball. Tonight, they have not been very good, with the Hawks holding a decisive 32-21 rebounding edge which has allowed them to hold a 28-14 advantage in points in the paint, an 8-2 edge on second-chance points in addition to leading the fast break points game, 7-4.