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Celtics fast starts key to winning ways

04.02.12 at 12:31 am ET
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“The bottom line is we can’€™t dig ourselves into these holes in the first quarter. It’€™s seems repetitive. Starters have to do a better job of getting off to better starts. We had to scratch and claw our way back and exert so much energy. Guys get tired and can’€™t get over the hump.”- Paul Pierce following a 88-79 loss to the Bulls during a five-game losing streak earlier this season.

“Probably early in the year, we were probably out of shape. Right now, we’re starting to find out groove. We’re coming out being aggressive from the jump. That’s our mentality, we’re usually the aggressor — not the retaliators. So, when we come out and play that way it’s pretty much to our advantage.” - Paul Pierce on Sunday, following the Celtics 91-72 win over the Heat.

During their five-game winning streak, the Celtics have jumped out to quick leads. As Pierce lamented earlier in the season, in the NBA teams make runs to bring themselves back within contention, but the energy expended during those frantic momentum swings often leaves players gassed and unable to complete the comeback.

That’s why Sunday’s fast start was so imperative to Boston’s 91-72 blowout victory against the Heat. Rajon Rondoen route to his fifth triple-double of the season – led the way with in the first 12 minutes; scoring 10 points, dishing out four assists, and corralling four rebounds. The lead dwindled to five by halftime in large part because Boston went through an all-to-familiar offensive lull when they trotted a lineup of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, Keyon Dooling, Avery Bradley, and Sasha Pavlovic in the second quarter.

The key, however, was that Rondo and Pierce earned valuable rest prior to halftime. With the Celtics still ahead by five, and their two All-Stars fresh for the final 24 minutes, Boston pounced on the Heat in the third quarter, outscoring Miami, 31-12. And Miami, who had already climbed back from a 10-point first quarter deficit, resigned to taking low percentage mid-range jumpers. The Celtics never looked back.

“Offensively and defensively we like to come out and throw the first punch,” Pierce said. “If we’re able to do that for the full game, then I like our chances night-in and night-out against anybody.”

Because of a laundry list of injuries, the Celtics have had to play with a short bench, putting added responsibility to the starters to produce early in games. In each of the last five games, they have jumped out to substantial leads, which in turn, creates a cushion whenever the undermanned bench take the floor.

Last Sunday, against the Wizards, the Celtics grabbed a 15-point lead after the first quarter, and stretched the margin to 19 by halftime. Washington gave a determined effort in the opening stages of the second half, cutting the deficit to eight points, but the lead earned at halftime proved to be insurmountable. Despite being outscored 42-35 in the second half, the Celtics cruised to a relatively easy 88-76 victory.

The next night in Charlotte, the Celtics starters went to work immediately, grabbing an 18-point lead after the first quarter, trying to finish the game before the lowly Bobcats knew it started. Like the Wizards, the Bobcats responded with a 35-point second quarter. The Celtics were able to recover in the second-half and turn their two-point halftime advantage into double digits in the fourth quarter, before putting Charlotte away 102-95. Imagine if the starters imply held serve in the first quarter though — surely, they would have been staring at a double-digit halftime hole.

Last Wednesday, a 28-14 second quarter advantage against the Jazz gave Boston enough wiggle room to sustain a few blows by Al Jefferson and company, eventually pulling away to their fourth straight victory.

It took them more than half a season to find their rhythm from start to finish, but the Celtics are starting to find it.

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