|Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce star in ‘True Grit’ – Celtics style||12.17.10 at 10:24 am ET|
John Wayne and Jeff Bridges have nothing on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Garnett inspired the weary and wounded Celtics with 17 points and 14 rebounds while Pierce restored order to the offense as Nate Robinson was finding his way. KG and Pierce were the two biggest reasons the Celtics ran their winning streak to 12 games in a 102-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden on Thursday night.
The 12-game run matches their longest since they set the franchise record of 19 back in the 2008-09 season. Glen Davis had 18 points off a shorthanded Celtics bench. How shorthanded?
The team found out just before the game they would be without Rajon Rondo for couple of weeks as GM Danny Ainge told WEEI that his sprained left ankle needed time to heal. Robinson started and – after a rocky first half – provided an emotional boost with 14 points and five assists in 41 minutes.
Shaquille O’Neal missed his fourth straight game with a strained right calf. Von Wafer came up with a sore back in the first half and was unavailable in the second half, giving the Celtics four healthy bench players. Semih Erden scored 10 points in 24 minutes, starting in place of O’Neal for the fourth straight game.
For the final 2:44 of the first quarter, Doc Rivers had Pierce on the court with Davis, Marquis Daniels, Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.
“We were playing with Semih, two rooks, and then Von went down at halftime,” Garnett said. “So it’s not enough to say [gritty]. I mean, ‘P’ said it before the game: This is going to me more mental than anything. I think everybody’s playing, is giving everything they have. And in order for us to win these games, we’re just going to have to grind it out.
“You know, until we get the guys back. We just got the news about Rondo; Shaq wasn’t available today. So what’re you going to do? You either quit, you put your clothes on and go home, but that ain’t the way we do things around here. We work. So that, pretty much – gutsy is an understatement.”
Playing on fumes for most of the first half after an emotional win in New York 24 hours earlier, the Celtics came alive late in the second quarter, going on a 10-2 run to take a 44-43 lead at halftime. They opened the second half with a 20-12 run to assume control of the game.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised or not,” Rivers said of his team’s true grit. “I trust our guys. They just play well. They’re executing well. I thought – second half was terrific for us. I thought the first half, it was a grind. I mean, you could just feel it, emotionally, too, probably, coming off of last night’s game. And then in the second half, you know, it was terrific – we couldn’t get Ray [Allen] going in the first half, and so we just changed the passer and made it Paul.
While Garnett was providing his typical fire and inspiration, Pierce turned back the clock to 2006 and ran the offense as a point-forward in the second half, while Robinson found his bearings.
“I knew I was going to have to be more of a play-maker,” Pierce said. “Truthfully, I really didn’t think like that. I just tried to feel the game out, and you know, try to give it what it needs. I didn’t need to try to have a great scoring night because of the guys we had going. I mean, Ray got it going in the second half, Baby was consistent all game, and Kevin set the tone. So, I just let the chips fall where they may, and the guys, they stepped up. And so, it sort of, kind of, ended up that way. And it played out perfectly. And if that’s what it’s going to take, that’s what it’s going to take. You know, a lot of guys out. Guys are going to be asked to play multiple roles. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”
“Paul basically became the point forward in the second half,” Rivers added. “And it really worked out for us. I don’t know if we stumbled on it if we kind of were forced to do it. But it was terrific. And Paul enjoyed it, which is even better. And then our defense kicked in too.”
And the defense will always be the true grit of this Celtics show.