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Celtics 92, Pacers 77

Pacesetters

Celtics zero in on best record, home advantage

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / April 3, 2008

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen have accomplished a lot during their illustrious careers. But one thing they'd never won - along with an NBA title - was 60 games in a regular season.

Until last night.

The Celtics became the first team to reach the 60-win mark this season by defeating the Indiana Pacers, 92-77, at TD Banknorth Garden. They became only the third team in franchise history to win 60 games in as few as 75 contests; the others were in 1985-86 (62-13) and 1972-73 (61-14).

"We've been past where I've been, 49 [in 2001-02]," said Pierce, who had 13 points and five assists. "Sixty, it's all good. We've got a bigger picture in mind. It's great to get as many wins as we get. But I guess the goal for us [now] is wrapping up home court throughout the playoffs.

"That record goes out the window when the playoffs start. It's all good and fine now. But when the playoffs start, it's 0-0."

The Celtics' magic number to clinch the top regular-season record in the NBA (Boston owns the tiebreaker over Detroit) is 1. Such an accomplishment would guarantee the Celtics home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Celtics also tied the 1997-98 Spurs (Tim Duncan's rookie year) for the largest one-year turnaround in NBA history. At 60-15, the Celtics have 36 more wins than last season, when they finished 24-58.

"I'm just fortunate to be in this position coming from a year ago," Pierce said. "Thankfully, we have players around that can do that. Everything we are doing is all bright and dandy. Records, turnaround . . . This team is tremendously focused."

Said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins: "It's just a big turnaround, man. This is expected for this team."

Boston has won five straight games overall and four straight at home. The Celtics also swept the three-game season series against Indiana (31-44).

A night after winning at Chicago, Boston improved to 15-2 in the second of back-to-back games and 4-0 in the second game of road-home back-to-backs. Garnett earned his 28th double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds in only 31 minutes and received a standing ovation when he departed late in the fourth quarter.

"The focus is very important coming down the past couple games," Garnett said. "We're preparing for something way bigger than the present."

The Pacers shot 35.6 percent from the field, missed 23 of 29 3-pointers, and hit only 19 of 31 free throws. Indiana allowed 27 points off turnovers and didn't have a player score more than 14 points.

Before the game, Pacers forward Danny Granger called last night's encounter "monumental toward our playoff cause." It's starting to look like eighth-place Atlanta (35-40) will be Boston's first-round opponent, as it holds a four-game lead over Indiana and New Jersey.

"We have seven games left," said Pacers center Jeff Foster. "We've got to try to win all seven of them and hope Atlanta loses some."

The Celtics led, 29-17, at the end of the first quarter. Pierce and Garnett each had 8 points in the first. Boston went into halftime with a 49-30 lead after getting 14 points from Garnett and 11 from Pierce. Indiana shot 25 percent in the first half and missed 11 of 12 3-point attempts. The Pacers were 1 point shy of matching a Celtic opponents' season low for the first half, set by Sacramento Dec. 26.

"We didn't make the shots that we had to in the first half," said Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. "We dug ourselves too big of a hole to come back against these guys."

The Pacers outscored Boston, 22-19, in the third to get within 16 points by the end of the quarter (68-52). Granger nailed a 3-pointer to bring Indiana within 76-61 with 6:51 remaining. Allen, however, gave Boston an 88-67 lead with a 3-pointer with 2:51 remaining.

"It's great that we won 60, but we are not aiming for amount of wins as long we win that championship," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.

Of late, it seems as if the Celtics reach a new benchmark with every win. But they keep saying that the focus is on winning a title, not the accomplishments that come along the way.

"It is nice, don't get me wrong. I enjoy everything," said coach Doc Rivers. "You guys just don't see it.

"The parties I have in my apartment are amazing."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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