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Head down, Wilcox kept grinding

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / February 4, 2012
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Chris Wilcox spent the first half of the Celtics’ 91-89 win over the New York Knicks last night either on the bench or on the floor fumbling away passes.

But, during a crucial stretch in the second half, Wilcox started getting his hands on rebounds and finishing plays as the Celtics rallied. Wilcox grabbed four offensive rebounds, including a follow off a Paul Pierce airball, during a 19-8 Celtics run.

“Chris Wilcox was down,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of Wilcox’s first half. “He bobbled a couple balls, he had his head down. And all I just told him is, ‘We play forward, all right?’ I said, ‘Can’t get any of those back.’ And I thought he, Paul, obviously - but I thought Chris Wilcox was the hero. Him and Avery [Bradley], their defensive intensity changed the game.’’

In the final minute of the third quarter, Wilcox capped a four-shot Celtic possession with two free throws, then followed Pierce’s shot at the buzzer to cut their deficit to 72-69.

Wilcox converted two more free throws after Pierce chased down his own miss, tying the score, 77-77, with 8:43 remaining.

Wilcox, who finished with 6 points, and Bradley soon returned to the bench, which had helped set things up for the starters to finish off the Knicks.

“We just came out and played hard,’’ Wilcox said. “In the fourth quarter, end of the third, end of the fourth - we just went out there and grinded it out. We put ourselves in a situation where all we had to do was get rebounds down the stretch and that’s what we did.’’

The Celtics were down, 55-49, at halftime. And Wilcox was down, as well. But Wilcox was in good spirits at the end.

“I’m definitely happy because, you know, my first half I might not be playing the next game,’’ Wilcox said. “But I found a way to grind it out, came out and played hard and, you know, good things happen.

“I think it was more mental [in the opening half]. I couldn’t even grab the ball. Every time I grabbed it, it was slipping out of my hands. I had to sit down, give me a second, you know what I’m saying? Breathe. And then I just played hard. I knew what I had to do - just play hard and help my team.’’

In recent seasons, the Celtics have seldom won games with offensive rebounding, a function of both their own accurate shooting and Rivers’s emphasis on preventing transition baskets.

But the opportunistic instincts and quickness of Brandon Bass and Wilcox has changed that dynamic, at least for the second unit.

“Definitely, all it takes is one,’’ Wilcox said of offensive rebounds. “Once you get the first one you go on to get the rest of them. And it’s always good when you can tap one out and get you get a 3-point basket off it. So, it’s all momentum.

“I think our main thing is we’re learning how to win down the stretch. We’re finding out how to grind it out, how to get out of situations. And I think that’s what’s happing at this point. It’s definitely important - early in the season still - we’re finding a way to win down the stretch. It’s definitely good. Doc’s trusting in guys and we’re trusting each other and that’s what we need this time of year.’’

Though Wilcox might have been pessimistic in the first half, his attitude changed after the game. He was even positive about Pierce’s nullified 3-pointer that would have given the Celtics a 93-89 advantage with 14.4 seconds left. After review, it was ruled to come after the shot clock had expired.

“It’s tough,’’ Wilcox said of Pierce’s shot. “But at the end of the day it was good because, even though they didn’t count it, it definitely gave us the momentum and gave us the energy we needed to get stops down the stretch.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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