Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title
|04.18.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.
Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.
Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.
Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.
Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Big Baby’s Superman impression: In January, when he made his return to Boston in a Magic uniform, Davis finished with six points on just 2-of-9 shooting. The second time around was far more successful. In the first quarter alone, he amassed 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting — exceeding his season average of 8.9 points entering the game — to go along with three rebounds, two steals and a block in the opening 12 minutes.
3-pointers, version 2.0: It wasn’t quite the barrage of 14 first-half treys unloaded on the Celtics by the Knicks, but the Magic shot a healthy of 4-of-8 from long distance in the second quarter. Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick did their best Steve Novak and J.R. Smith impression, combining to shoot 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the frame. Together, they erased an 11-point Celtics lead, tying the game 47-47 on Redick’s triple from Nelson.
Depth perception: Not only was Rondo unavailable after a nasty fall in New York, but Allen missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury — and 12th in his last 17 — while Pietrus rested his knee for a second consecutive night four games after missing 10 straight with a concussion. The injuries don’t appear to be severe, and Rivers is likely playing it safe by resting the trio prior to the playoffs, but the Celtics can’t afford to be without any of the three in the postseason. While the bench exceeded its atrocious output of two points against the Knicks, the reserves didn’t exactly breed confidence, even if Moore and Daniels combined for nine points.