Celtics fast out of the blocks, chop Timberwolves
The Celtics regained their winning form last night. They also rediscovered the formula for preserving themselves for the playoffs, producing their best first-half offense of the season in a 122-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Paul Pierce (29 points) set the tone, becoming the first Celtic to convert six 3-pointers without a miss in a home game.
“I told him he needs to get back to just playing on his instincts,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of Pierce. “I thought he was trying to get everybody involved, which you want him to do, too. But I think our three really instinctive players are Kevin [Garnett], [Rajon] Rondo, and Paul. You always have to remind them, just be an instinctive player, you have great instincts. Those three guys, you just want them to play. And their instincts do everything for them.’’
Pierce established a season high for points at home, and it was his most productive offensive performance since a 33-point game Nov. 22 in a 107-105 overtime win in New York.
“I wanted to be more aggressive than I have in the past few games,’’ Pierce said, “but do it within the concept of what we’re doing as a team.’’
The Celtics led, 34-19, after the first quarter, and 66-41 at halftime, season-high point totals for a first quarter and first half.
The Celtics led by as many as 26 points, Pierce’s foul shot making it 86-60 with 5:13 remaining in the third. Before the end of the quarter, Kendrick Perkins (14 points, 11 rebounds) had compiled his third double-double in six games. But there were signs of a letdown as Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn scored 14 of his 21 points in the quarter, preventing the Celtics from extending their advantage.
In the final quarter, though, the Celtics (21-5), who host Indiana tomorrow, allowed the Timberwolves (5-23) to pull within 12, causing the starters to return with seven-plus minutes remaining.
After a Flynn drive cut the deficit to 106-94 with 5:14 left, the Celtics reestablished their defensive intensity. The Timberwolves would convert only once more from the field (a Ryan Hollins follow with 3:01 to go). And 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by Pierce and Ray Allen (20 points) allowed the Celtic starters to sit back down for the final 2:33.
“When games get out of reach you seem to let your guard down,’’ Perkins said. “I think we’ve got a bad habit of doing that, like the game’s over. And Minnesota is going to keep fighting. They made some big plays, they were out running. Just minor things for us; when you’ve got a team down you’ve got to keep them down.’’
This game was in contrast to the Celtics’ 98-97 loss to Philadelphia Friday night, which snapped an 11-game winning streak. Only two officials (Kevin Fehr and Derrick Stafford) were available because of weather-related travel difficulties; but there appeared to be little tension as Rasheed Wallace, ejected in the first half Friday, had a quiet, effective night (10 points). Perkins, however, was issued his seventh technical foul of the season late in the third.
Though the Celtics did let their guard down in the final quarter, allowing 32 points, they played enough offense (30 points) to compensate.
“Doc said it, this team likes to crash the offensive rebound, and there’s fast-break opportunities for us,’’ Pierce said. “And I thought the first game we played them [a 92-90 victory Nov. 4] we did the same thing. So we thought if we got the rebound, we can run.’’
Minnesota was effective rebounding - Al Jefferson and Kevin Love each had five offensive rebounds as the Timberwolves totaled 16. But the Celtics took down 35 defensive rebounds. And when the Celtics were setting the pace with a 16-4 run over a 5:17 span of the opening quarter, half of those points were in transition, including a Perkins reverse dunk on a three-on-none fast break.
“I’m just trying to attack the offensive glass more,’’ Perkins said. “I’m doing more pick-and-rolls, rolling to the rim, that type of stuff. Guys are finding me. I’m trying to run with Rondo; that’s kind of hard, but I’m trying to. I know we were lacking rebounding. I’m just trying to hit the offensive glass, the defensive glass a little harder, and the offense is going to take care of itself.
“I thought our assists  were up. We were making the extra pass, the pass leading to the bucket. We were getting stops. When we move the ball and stuff like that and Ray and Paul shoot the way they shot tonight, we’re going to win most of our games.’’