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Celtics 103, Pacers 94

A winning ticket

Ailing Garnett sits as Celtics overcome Pacers

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 23, 2009

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The oddest part was not hearing his voice.

Kevin Garnett wasn’t barking out assignments. He wasn’t yelling out screens. He wasn’t even on the Celtics’ bench for last night’s 103-94 win over the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden.

A bruised right thigh forced him to sit out, and it wasn’t just that Garnett wasn’t there, his voice was missing, too.

The Celtics were without their defensive leader, and the Pacers noticed. Between Earl Watson and Mike Dunleavy, they threw darts at the Celtics’ defense from the start. The Pacers hit five 3-pointers early and before the Celtics could look up they were behind by 14.

“It took us a half to realize that Kevin wasn’t going to be out there,’’ said Paul Pierce.

Pierce wasn’t having the best night of his career either - through three quarters, he appeared to be missing as well. He missed his first 10 shots, and seven free throws represented his scoring output until he came alive in the fourth quarter. He finished with 21 points, including a 19-foot fadeaway that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the night, 99-90.

With a four-game road trip coming up, starting with the Magic on Christmas Day, the Celtics seemed distracted early on.

“The holidays are a tough time to play, obviously, because of distractions,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “Tomorrow, we’re bringing everyone’s family, wives and kids. I actually told them before the game, I said, ‘I know how it works and I know you’ve been home all day and your wives and your kids have been talking about going to see Mickey Mouse and all that.’ But we have a game tonight. Unfortunately, it was true in the first half, but give them credit. They all came out and played terrific in the second half.’’

After shooting 30 percent in the first half, the Celtics hit 18 of 39 second-half shots as they snapped out of the shock of playing without Garnett. In the second half, the Celtics’ defense slowed the hot-shooting Pacers, who had been on pace to crack the century mark.

“We weren’t defending,’’ said Pierce. “That’s the thing. We looked up, we knew we shot a low percentage, we knew we shot good shots, but at the end, you look up and they have 57 points in the first half. We’re not a team that gives up 57 points in a half, especially with a team that’s been struggling lately. We wanted to knuckle down and come out more intensive in the second half.’’

Trailing, 57-42, at halftime, the Celtics erased the deficit with a 13-2 run, sparked by Rajon Rondo (15 points), Ray Allen (23), and Kendrick Perkins that gave them their first lead.

Perkins was two rebounds shy of a double-double (19 points, eight boards). Eddie House supplied 10 points off the bench. Rasheed Wallace scored 9, filling Garnett’s spot in the starting lineup, though he banged his right shoulder late in the game.

“It started on defense,’’ said Rondo. “We got stops, and once we got stops, that opened up the break, guys ran the break and we got open looks. We didn’t let our offense dictate our defense. It was vice versa.’’

Perkins went 5 for 5 in the third quarter, cutting to the rim at the right time, turning feeds from Rondo and Allen into baskets, and hitting 3 of 4 free throws.

As hot as Indiana was in the first half, the Celtics did a lot of things to hurt themselves early on.

“That was all the stagnation in the first quarter,’’ said Allen, who had 15 points in the second half. “You’re just used to a certain rhythm, a certain chemistry on the floor . . . I guess offensively we didn’t have great chemistry early and then we just picked it up.

“We invented a new way to win tonight.’’

The Celtics had two wins in this three-game homestand and improved their Garden record to 10-4, but their play during the stretch didn’t necessarily sit well with Rivers.

“We’ve got to play better at home,’’ he said. “There’s no doubt about that.’’

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