The shape of last night's basketball game was defined by Paul Pierce. Simple as that.
Pierce scored 24 points in 33 minutes and 26 seconds of play as the Celtics subdued the Orlando Magic, 107-88, at TD Banknorth Garden for their ninth straight victory. The Celtics shot 54.1 percent from the field while holding their beat-up opponents to 42 percent.
But it was Pierce's entry and exit from the court that paced the offense. In the first half, Pierce got in foul trouble, picking up his second personal at 8:27 of the first quarter, and taking a seat a minute later. He played only 4:33 of the second quarter and scored no points; he had collected just 5 points before halftime, when the Celtics held a 48-46 lead.
Then he came back to work. Pierce knocked down an 11-foot jumper, a pair of free throws, a 24-foot 3-pointer, and a 15-foot turnaround fadeaway at the start of the second half, scoring 9 points while the Magic countered with a single point from a free throw. When Pierce was done, the Celtics had a 12-point lead at 59-47, helped by a slam dunk from Kevin Garnett.
"It wasn't something I just decided to do; we were taking advantage of matchups," Pierce said. "We saw something that was working and we decided to go with it.
"My teammates did a good job of setting me up. We ran set plays to get me the ball in a position where I could score and I took advantage of it."
Pierce wasn't done. He took a pass from Garnett and drove to the basket for a layup, added four more free throws (he was 9 for 10 at the line), then a 16-foot jumper that restored the Celtics to a double-digit lead at 68-57. He dropped in two more free throws before his third quarter was complete at 17 points, and Tony Allen replaced him with 27 seconds left.
And Pierce wasn't the only smoothie on the court; Ray Allen floated in 21 points, including three 3-pointers, Garnett had 15 points and 9 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo was so slick in distributing the ball that it came back to him enough for the quick point guard to score 16 points. Rondo had 12 assists.
"I think Rondo is doing a great job of pushing the ball up, finding the open guy," Pierce said. "He's causing havoc, getting into the paint. When he's doing things like that, our offense is really unstoppable.
"His assists are up, his turnovers are down, and he's just improving right before our eyes."
As for Rondo, he recognized the direction in which Pierce was taking the game.
"Definitely, feed the pig, you know, until he stops," Rondo said. "Even if he misses one possession, if it's a good shot, I'm still going to him again."
The Magic are one of the Celtics' top Eastern Conference rivals, but they came to Boston shorthanded; four players are sidelined with injuries, including Keith Bogans (broken thumb), Jameer Nelson (strained hip flexor), and Mickael Pietrus (torn thumb ligament).
"We realized the Magic aren't at full strength," Pierce said. "They're missing two starters.
"They played us really well last year. It was like a statement game for us."
For coach Doc Rivers, the game had a balance that made the Celtics hard to stop. Pressure on one end was countered by energy at the other.
"The balance tonight on both ends was terrific," Rivers said. "I thought it was one of those nights where we had great offensive balance, you know, to shoot 54 percent, and great defensive balance.
"When you have that combination, you're probably going to have a really good night. And we did."