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Streak gives lift to Celtics

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 7, 2010

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There were more jokes than tension in the locker room.

No trade-deadline pressure. No empty cubby-holes because players were injured. No invisible gray clouds lingering after embarrassing losses to Cleveland and New Jersey.

Winning three straight games - even if they came against very beatable teams - was enough to start a shift in the atmosphere for the Celtics.

It means a slightly banged-up Tony Allen can keep up a running joke about Marquis Daniels, and at the end of the night Daniels can laugh about it.

It means Paul Pierce can break into Kevin Garnett’s interview session, giving the big man a hard time after a win over Philadelphia.

And it seems to mean that the Celtics, at something close to full strength, can put two awful games and an up-and-down season behind them.

“I see our talk and just how we communicate on the court and in the locker room,’’ Pierce said. “I can feel it. It’s just something you can feel.’’

With the playoffs in sniffing distance, the Celtics realize they are in as good a position health-wise and chemistry-wise as they’ve been all year. They have a healthy starting five - especially a healthy Garnett - in March for the first time since 2007.

“We’re starting to form a little bit,’’ Garnett said. “The spirit is starting to get there. We’re vibrant.’’

The deadline deal that sent Eddie House to New York for Nate Robinson immediately led to questions about how Robinson would affect team chemistry, not only because of his history with the Knicks but because House was one of the team’s core personalities and a leader off the bench.

But Robinson has blended into the locker room almost effortlessly. He and Rajon Rondo challenge each other before games, in shooting contests, jokingly setting up to race each other before Friday’s game.

“Nate came here and just gave us a light of sunshine, if you will,’’ Garnett said. “He’s a big energy spark. He’s a positive energy and a great presence. I think it’s uniting the locker room a little bit. It’s like fresh air.’’

Kendrick Perkins said, “The spirit is very positive right now. The moves we made with Nate, he came in and fit right in with us. Everything’s been good and we’re just trying to keep it positive.’’

As upset as the Celtics were after falling to the Cavaliers and Nets, the sky never fell inside the locker room.

When the Celtics were in Detroit last week, coach Doc Rivers said the fallout was to be expected, but a bad loss doesn’t define a team.

“Of course when you lose to a team that has a bad record, they’re going to kill your team,’’ Rivers said. “Let them have fun. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about winning in the playoffs and getting better as a team.’’

Still, the Celtics have been here before this season. They’ve bundled three wins together in the second half and had 11 straight in the first half, only to let the momentum die. The most recent instance was immediately after the All-Star break, when they won three of four out West and didn’t carry that success back to Boston.

“We’ve had stretches like that where I’ve said to myself, ‘You can see it,’ and then all of a sudden it goes away for a couple games,’’ Rivers said. “If there’s been a frustration, that’s been it right there.’’

If he had his way, Perkins said, he’d like to see his team run the table in March just to send a message, but having all the pieces in place and jelling late in the season is a good sign.

“It’s very important,’’ Perkins said. “At times, guys get frustrated for whatever reason, but on this team, we’ve just got to understand it’s all about the W.

“I think that’s what we’ve been doing. We just try to take it one game at a time and just keep building.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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