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Celtics notebook

They keep a healthy outlook

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 23, 2010

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If there is a measure of how strange the Celtics’ recent stretch of success has been, last night they shot 38.8 percent, missed 14 3-pointers, and still extended their winning streak to 14 games.

Their 84-80 triumph over the Sixers at the Garden gave them not only the longest win streak in the NBA this season, but the longest since the Celtics won 19 straight early in the 2008-09 season.

Then there’s the fact that Jermaine O’Neal, projected to be their starting center during the preseason, hasn’t played a minute during the streak. Neither has Delonte West, who returned from a 10-game suspension only to break his wrist five games later. Shaquille O’Neal’s been ubiquitous off the court, but he’s missed nine games because of knee and calf issues.

The Celtics have won big, they’ve escaped with 1-point victories, and last night they overcame sluggishness and poor shooting. The consensus is that this is one of the oddest winning streaks imaginable.

“Usually when you’re on a winning streak, everybody’s healthy,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “Everybody’s playing well and you’re rolling. You can make the case it’s the exact opposite with us. Everybody’s not healthy, key guys are out, and guys are coming in for two games, guys are missing games. And we keep doing it.’’

They’ve beaten eight teams by double figures during the streak. Then again, they’ve won four games by 4 points or fewer. Last night was easily their worst shooting night during the run, the 38.8 percent topping the rock fight they had with the Bobcats more than a week ago (43.7). They’ve used four different starting lineups, but the core of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett has remained injury free.

“We’re finding ways to win in any kind of way and that just shows the versatility of the team this year,’’ Pierce said. “We’ve won games in the hundreds. We’ve won games in the 80s. We’re just finding ways to grind it out because we don’t have the healthy bodies, and you don’t know who’s going to be in there night in and night out.

“So we’ve got to win differently every night. That’s the way its going to be. We’re not going to make excuses’’

Grinding it out Pierce’s third-quarter technical was just one sign of his frustration. He missed eight of his first 10 shots. He didn’t get to the line until the fourth quarter. And as the de facto point guard with Rajon Rondo sidelined, he spent entirely too much time bringing the ball up the floor.

“I know I was frustrated,’’ Pierce said. “In a game where you’re trying to get rhythm, the game is off-balance, calls are being called each and every way. It’s hard to get in rhythm.

“I definitely was frustrated. Sometimes that happens. You let the refs get the best of you, and obviously it affected my play. But somehow, some way, we tried to grind it out, come back to reality, and find a way to win.’’

The same way Kobe Bryant was worried before the Lakers let the Bucks sneak up on them Tuesday night, Pierce could sense the Celtics’ early sluggishness.

“He knows stuff early,’’ Rivers said. “Everybody wasn’t ready to play to start the game. You could feel it, you could see it. That frustrates guys. Especially if they’re ready. The good thing about our team is, though, they hold everybody accountable. You could hear them at halftime. Before I even went in the locker room you could talk about it.’’

Sick day After sitting out since early November with left knee soreness, the flu kept Jermaine O’Neal out of the lineup last night, but Rivers expects him to be able to play Christmas Day against the Magic. “He just needed to get minutes, so he was ready,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know how much we’ll play him when he comes back right away. But at least he’ll be in uniform on Christmas Day and that’ll be good.’’ Rivers doesn’t expect Rondo (ankle) to be back by the weekend. “I know he’s walking and running and moving around pretty well. So he’s getting pretty close,’’ Rivers said.

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

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