The Celtics owed the Bobcats a whoopin’ Saturday night. A serious one.
The act that burned the Celtics’ tempers was the 26-point beatdown the league-worst Bobcats handed down last Tuesday in Charlotte, also where the Bobcats snapped the Celtics’ seven-game winning streak Feb. 11.
“Of course, they whooped us back at their place,” Jeff Green said, “so we wanted to come out, be aggressive, and send a message.”
The message, loud and clear via a 105-88 blitzkrieg that was Boston’s 11th straight win at home: Even without Kevin Garnett, who sat because of an left adductor strain, the Celtics could still treat the Bobcats like the NBA’s worst team.
“They had an emotion to them,” said Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap. “They didn’t like losing to us twice and they showed that.”
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, led by 14 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds from Paul Pierce, who played a breezy 23 minutes. And 11 Celtics scored at least 5 points, with Jason Terry adding 15 off the bench.
The season series is tied at two games apiece, with each winning a pair on its home court, but this Celtics win wasn’t all gravy.
Though they led by as many as 26 points, the Celtics didn’t have the game in hand until midway through the third quarter, when they used a 16-4 run to open a double-digit lead, and started a 15-3 run that stretched into the fourth.
Before then, the Celtics lacked energy. They wore their green-with-gold-trim St. Patrick’s Day jerseys and played as if they were hung over.
Coach Doc Rivers then instructed his team to pick it up.
“We just kind of went into the walk-it-up or middle pace, and I said, ‘Just push it up every single time and see what we can get,’ ” Rivers said.
What the Celtics got were a lot of buckets early in the shot clock. They scored 33 points in that third quarter and hit all four of their 3-point attempts, a theme for the night as Boston hit 10 of its 15 shots from beyond the arc.
The game had a markedly different feel from their most recent meeting, one that Pierce sat out to rest.
But in his return, Pierce captained the Celtics to a much-needed win without Garnett.
“He just settled the entire team down,” Dunlap said. “He has a calm disposition. He doesn’t get too high or too low. And that’s been his career. He’s just a salty dog warrior.”
Pierce said he knew when he learned Saturday morning that Garnett wouldn’t play that the Celtics needed everyone to step up just like they did in Phoenix Feb. 22, the other game Garnett has missed this season, though that was because of rest.
Against the Suns, the Celtics received a balanced scoring effort and won by 25. Saturday night’s game followed a similar script, even if things didn’t get rolling until after intermission.
“I thought second half we came out, we ran the ball a lot better, we rebounded the ball a lot better, and it provided easy opportunities for us,” Pierce said. “When we play that way, to go along with defensive stops, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Gerald Henderson scored a career-high 35 points in his team’s 100-74 win over the Celtics last Tuesday, after which Celtics defensive ace Avery Bradley said, “We won’t let it happen again.”
Bradley and Co., especially Courtney Lee, who guarded Henderson for much of the night, kept their word: Henderson finished with 16 points.
And now comes Miami, winner of 21 straight heading into Sunday. The Heat visit TD Garden Monday. Rivers said he’s not sure if Garnett will play in that game.
Said Pierce: “Right now, we don’t expect him to be back. And that’s the mind-set we’ve got to take. If he’s back, that’s just an added bonus for us to play Miami.
“So, right now, as of today, we’ve got to get our minds right that this is the team that we’re going to see vs. Miami and we’ve all got to be ready to step up.”
Stepping up against Charlotte seems like it should never be necessary, but against Miami, such an act is required.