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Versatility was on display

Celtics get it done with defense, treys

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / October 29, 2009

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The question that illuminated like a “vacancy’’ sign at a seedy motel following a 92-59 win over the Charlotte Bobcats was whether the Celtics are good enough to use games to experiment with styles.

In last night’s home opener at TD Garden, the Celtics were a perimeter squad, content to swing and shoot against the overmatched Bobcats. The Celtics bombarded their inferior opponents with a barrage of 3-pointers and then when the middle softened, sealed the game with a 20-2 run to begin the third quarter with a smothering defense.

It was another impressive win for the Celtics, but this was hardly similar to the rough-and-tumble effort Tuesday night at Cleveland. The Celtics toyed with Charlotte and launched 3-pointers as if the Garden were a super-sized pop-a-shot floor. Doc Rivers said he has no issue with his players taking open 3-pointers, “as long as they are good shots.’’

“We’re taking good threes,’’ Rivers said. “I’m a fan of the three if the ball starts from the inside and works its way out. And I thought that’s what we did, especially in the second half.’’

The Celtics’ effective perimeter game sent another message to their adversaries. The Celtics can beat you in a variety of ways, and with roughly one-40th of the season done, many of those ways to victory have yet to be uncovered.

Eleven 3-pointers and a staunch defense that held Charlotte to a franchise low in points and a 10-point quarter was last night’s recipe. If Tuesday’s victory could be compared to Muhammad Ali’s grinding win over Ernie Terrell, last night’s was the Jerry Quarry fight.

“We have so many talented players, we have talented point guards, talented big men, talented three men,’’ forward Rasheed Wallace said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy every night because it’s not but sometimes with our desire, we might make it look easy.’’

There was a tinge of concern before the game because the Bobcats were fresh, having yet to open their season. And the Celtics arrived in Boston about 2:30 a.m. following their win over Cleveland. If there was a time to catch the Celtics slipping, it was indeed last night.

Charlotte, however, is a team mired in transition. Since their inception in 2004, the Bobcats have been searching for an identity.

They tried going young and that failed miserably. Potential cornerstones such as Sean May, Emeka Okafor, and Adam Morrison are long gone, left in the Queen City are a group of not-ready-for-prime-timers and a frustrated coach in Larry Brown.

They turned out to be the perfect guest for the Celtics’ home opener. And we learned that Boston is mentally strong enough to avoid letdowns and skilled enough to win finesse games as well as physical tussles. Ray Allen did not have one of his better games as a Celtic, but his four 3-pointers opened the floor and turned this game into a laugher.

On nights when the offense isn’t running with precision, the defense can take over. Charlotte did not record a double-figure scorer until Gerald Wallace hit a free throw with 8:40 left in the game. The Celtics held Charlotte to 31 percent shooting, 0-for-10 from the 3-point line and forced 18 turnovers.

Kevin Garnett, following his emotional effort against the Cavaliers, pitched in with 10 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. The Celtics’ flawless defensive execution allowed Rivers to play Garnett just eight minutes in the second half.

Rivers limiting his stars in the second games of back-to-back series will allow the Celtics to be fresh come playoff time. And winning in different ways generates confidence. The Celtics aren’t going to face the challenge of Cleveland nightly. There are going to be cupcakes, teams that flinch the second the Celtics shrug their shoulders.

“We’ve got a lot of guys scared to death and that is tough,’’ Brown said. “I think we had like eight turnovers in the first eight or nine minutes and that led to a lot of their points. Then we got back in the game, cut it to 5 with the ball and all hell broke loose. Doc’s done a great job with them. Danny [Ainge] has done a great job getting the right guys.’’

If Game 2 exemplified anything, it’s that the Celtics are multi-skilled and able to beat some teams merely with their defensive intensity. That’s why they were able to get away with launching 3-pointers. The Celtics shot just 43 percent and recorded just 28 points in the paint. That won’t work against Orlando or the Lakers. But it was plenty good enough last night.

“Definitely,’’ was Paul Pierce’s response when asked if this is the most confident Celtics team he’s played on. “We work so hard in practice. When you work so hard with the things you do in practice, then it comes together in the game. But by no means are we where we want to be.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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