CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Paul Pierce has either failed to, or barely topped, double-figure scoring in four of the last six Celtics games. But Pierce needed only the final 3:57 to score 10 of his team-high 19 points in the Celtics' 89-84 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats last night.
With Pierce's help, the Celtics (16-2) improved their winning streak to eight games and are 5-1 in the second of games played on consecutive nights.
Things did not go as planned against the lowly Bobcats (5-11) until the final minutes. Coach Doc Rivers inserted the Celtic starters with 5:25 remaining.
It wasn't until Gerald Wallace (game-high 23 points) drove on Kevin Garnett to tie the score at 75 that the Celtics took command. Rajon Rondo (nine assists) set up the offense, Kendrick Perkins (15 points, 12 rebounds) converted a dunk, Garnett scored the clinching points with 40 seconds remaining, and Ray Allen (15 points) iced the game with two foul shots.
"It's a different guy every night," Pierce said. "I had the ball in my hands, it can be any given night, with Kevin, Ray, Rondo, we just saw the matchup and took advantage of it.
"I never think about my shots, that's the beauty of this team, the sacrifice each one of us makes. I never go in a game saying I need to get this many shots. As long as we get the win, that's all I really care about. At this point in my career, if I take two or three shots and we win the ballgame, or if I got it going and we win, it's all about winning."
Pierce capitalized on mismatches as the Bobcats played the final minutes with a three-guard lineup, scoring twice in the lane as the Celtics took an 81-77 lead with 2:20 to go. Pierce hit three foul shots and fed Garnett for a 17-footer and an 86-82 edge with 40 seconds to go.
"He was struggling, but he's Paul Pierce," Rivers said. "The great players, they can miss 15 in a row and they really believe the odds are changing in their way. The average player misses 15 in a row and hides under the bench. That's what makes Paul Paul."
The Celtics got off to a slow start before rallying for a 45-43 halftime lead, then stretched their advantage to 7 points in the third quarter. The Celtics did not convert a 3-pointer until Allen's shot with 4:09 remaining in the third gave them a 62-55 advantage.
The Celtics seemed to be taking command, overcoming a 6-point deficit early in the second quarter, scoring 11 successive points over a 3:59 stretch. But, after Allen's 21-footer capped a 13-1 run with four minutes remaining in the half, the Celtics surrendered 8 unanswered points. D.J. Augustin's drive gave Charlotte a 43-41 edge with 86 seconds to play. Then, over a 12-second span, the Celtics converted two-on-zero and three-on-one fastbreaks - Rondo passing up a layup for a Perkins dunk, then feeding Allen for a reverse layup - to take a 45-43 halftime lead
"I think our guys," Rivers said, "when they don't have a great game - and give Charlotte a lot of credit, I thought they played really hard - we just find a guy and find a way to win. Paul was struggling all night and he made big shots down the stretch.
"We were struggling, we were looking for anybody who could make a shot. I was looking for anybody who could make a shot, I was looking for volunteers, any guy who raised his hand. You could see it, we just couldn't get the ball in the basket."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.