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Celtics 118, Nets 86

With greatest of ease

Celtics coast past Nets after dominant third

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / January 15, 2009
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Paul Pierce insisted last night the Celtics' current form has not taken the edge off the chilly climate.

"It's freezing outside," Pierce said. "I brought my gloves."

But if anyone in the Boston area did not need handwear, it was Pierce - at least in the third quarter of the Celtics' 118-86 victory over the New Jersey Nets at TD Banknorth Garden.

Pierce converted all five of his 3-point attempts as the Celtics (32-9) pulled away from a 10-point halftime advantage, allowing the starters to conserve energy for Saturday's rematch with the Nets (19-20) in New Jersey.

The Celtics reached the halfway mark of the regular season two games behind last season's pace, their third successive victory helping to erase memories of a four-game losing streak.

Pierce (22 points) matched a team record for perfect 3-point shooting in a quarter, most recently accomplished by Ray Allen in the opening frame of a 94-88 win at Toronto last Sunday. But Pierce showed few signs he was going to have the hot hand as he went 2 for 9 (0 for 3 on threes) in the first half.

"You know, I don't get discouraged by misses," Pierce said. "I just took advantage of the ball movement. When we swung the ball, I was wide open, and I stayed aggressive. I thought I was a little tentative in the first half."

Such decisive victories have been rare for the Celtics this season, even during their 19-game winning streak from Nov. 15 until a Christmas Day loss to the Lakers. No amount of caps, mittens, or scarves could have warded off the cryogenic funk of a 2-7 slump going into this week.

"I never thought we were in the woods or out of the woods, really," coach Doc Rivers said. "The point I was making before we lost and went in the stretch, I didn't think we were as good as we were playing, and when we were losing, we weren't that bad. All we want to do is keep trending in the getting-better direction, and I thought during that stretch, we were just kind of staying in the same spot."

There were signs this was going to be a difficult test for the Nets early on, as the Celtics' Glen Davis converted his first career 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer. The Celtics appeared to be on the way to a blowout after Davis's 3-point play provided a 41-25 advantage with 5:55 left in the half. Though the Nets converted two of their first 11 shots in the second quarter, they got within 45-36 as Ryan Anderson scored with 2:41 remaining.

Late in the half, Rajon Rondo lobbed for two Kevin Garnett dunks (with 3:05 and 1.3 seconds remaining) and sank an 18-footer at the shot-clock buzzer (with 2:17 to go). The Celtics failed to extend their advantage, Devin Harris's foul shot 0.9 seconds after Garnett's dunk making the halftime score 51-41.

But the Celtics' defensive intensity was increasing, and Anderson would be the only Net to convert from the field in a 10:17 span covering the second and third quarters.

If it seemed like everything the Celtics were throwing up was going in, Rondo's third-quarter lob was confirmation, the ball going in without a Garnett touch with 19 seconds left.

"I was a bit surprised," Garnett said. "I said, 'Wow, that's in there.' "

The Celtic starters clinched the verdict with a 37-19 third quarter, and the reserves not only protected the advantage, they turned the final quarter into a spectacle of Bill Walker (6 points) inside moves.

"We were up 10 going into the second half, and we took care of the ball," Rondo said. "All we talked about at halftime was taking care of the ball. The guys were in a rhythm.

"It's only three games but we're out of the dip we had. We're going to hang in there. We had some tough times but we handled it pretty well. We all played great but we've got to follow it up. It's like a playoff series - we've got to face them again Saturday."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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