There’s a recognizable difference in Celtics of late
The team Mickael Pietrus thought he was joining was not the one that started with five wins in 14 games. Those Celtics were awful offensively and disoriented defensively.
But after a 94-87 win over Indiana Friday evened the Celtics’ record at 9-9, the team has recaptured some of the resilience, resourcefulness, and spirited play that characterized the previous four seasons.
“We’ve been playing extremely well, we’ve been playing Celtics basketball,’’ Pietrus said after Friday’s game. “That’s how I knew the Celtics play from being on the opposite team.’’
The Celtics’ fourth successive victory was accomplished without Ray Allen (ankle), Keyon Dooling (hip pointer), Jermaine O’Neal (knee), and Rajon Rondo (wrist). All four are expected to return soon, possibly for tonight’s contest against Cleveland at TD Garden.
But the Celtics have adjusted thanks to the recovery of Paul Pierce, who missed the first three games of the season (all losses) with a heel bruise; the steadiness of Kevin Garnett, the only Celtic to have started every game; plus the play of the newcomers and three players who contributed little last season - Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels, and Sasha Pavlovic.
“The bench has been great, the energy,’’ Pietrus said. “I think that’s the way we should play every night. We have a good rhythm right now on offense and defensively.’’
Another reason Pietrus is rejoicing in his choice to join the Celtics is he no longer has to defend Pierce.
With Rondo out since Jan. 18, Pierce has become more of a playmaker. He is averaging 8.8 assists during the winning streak.
“He was hard for me to guard when I was on the opposite team,’’ Pietrus said. “He’s a 10-time All-Star and we’re glad he has been stepping up for us late in the game. And we can’t wait to have Ray Allen back and have a full squad.’’
Pierce’s leadership extends to the locker room.
O’Neal recalled Pierce’s comments before the Celtics rallied to defeat Orlando, 91-83, Thursday. They fell behind by 27 points and trailed by 21 at the break.
“At the half, Paul was almost excited,’’ O’Neal said. “He said, ‘We get it down to 9 or 11 between the end of the third, we win the game’ - his exact words.’’
And the Celtics are following Pierce’s lead.
“Like Paul Pierce said, I’m glad we’re starting to get aggressive,’’ Brandon Bass said. “We get into the paint, we get to the free throw line, and things go in our favor.
“We’re riding Paul Pierce. He’s making plays for himself and others. He got hurt early on and [when] we had started training camp, he wasn’t even involved. So we knew it was going to take a little time.’’
Because there are so many new players, coach Doc Rivers has gone back to basic offensive sets.
“It’s pretty simple right now with our team,’’ Rivers said. “We’ve really simplified the offense to bare minimums. There’s no excuse right now to not be able to execute.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.