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Pietrus provides spark of energy

Forward is stellar in rare starting role

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 3, 2012
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Mickael Pietrus’s energy was infectious - probably more so than the flu-like symptoms that forced Ray Allen to miss the Celtics’ 107-94 victory over the New Jersey Nets last night at TD Garden.

When Pietrus got word during the shootaround that he was going to start for Allen, the nine-year veteran knew precisely what he had to do.

“I didn’t change anything,’’ Pietrus said. “I just got ready to fight and to win a basketball game. I wanted to improve our team.’’

Pietrus succeeded on all fronts, scoring 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (including 1 of 4 from the 3-point arc) to go along with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal in 23:13 of playing time. It was Pietrus’s fourth start of the season and the Celtics are 3-1 in those games.

“Pietrus has started some games for us before, and he’s been spectacular,’’ said Paul Pierce, referring to Pietrus’s last start - Feb. 22 in a 119-104 loss at Oklahoma City - in which he had a season-high 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting (2 of 5 on 3-pointers).

“He is able to come off the bench and give us great minutes for his defensive and shooting ability,’’ Pierce said. “I think [the defense] definitely goes to another level, because he’s our energy guy that we use off the bench.

“You know when he’s out there to start the game, he gets us off to a great start,’’ Pierce said. “He’s such a great rebounder for his size [6 feet 6 inches], and he can spread the floor with his 3-point shooting. It was a real big lift to have him out there.

“We knew we were missing Ray tonight, but we knew Pietrus could fill in.’’

That much was evident when the Nets rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter to trail, 34-30, in the second on a foul shot by Brook Lopez (28 points).

After the Celtics expanded the lead to 10 on a pair of foul shots by Pierce and breakaway dunk and turnaround jumper by Kevin Garnett, Pietrus went to work, converting a Rajon Rondo steal and outlet into a resounding slam, making it 42-30.

Then, after Rondo made it 44-30, Pietrus capped a decisive 12-0 run when he turned another Rondo steal and lob into a fast-break dunk - and chin-up - with 4:11 remaining before intermission.

“When Rondo tries to push the ball, everybody seems to be on the same page,’’ said Pietrus, who sat out the first eight games of the season following offseason knee injury.

“That’s how we need to play,’’ Pietrus said. “KG runs, [Chris] Wilcox runs. We want to be - and have - a good team, but we aren’t too young for that. Everybody says we are [getting] older and older and need crutches and stuff like that.

“I feel like we have a lot of energy and I love it.’’

After scoring all his points in 15:02 of the first half, Pietrus’s work seemed to be done, logging just 8:11 in the second half. He departed for good with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter and the Celtics leading, 81-60.

He spent the fourth quarter relaxing on the bench and even delivered a souvenir (his wrist bands) to a young fan seated near the press section.

“You know, people forget when Orlando went to the Finals, Mickael Pietrus defended everybody,’’ Doc Rivers said. “Defended LeBron [James], defended everybody. But he’s better than I thought; his energy is better. And he’s just, I said it a hundred times, but his spirit is just unbelievable on the team, in the locker room, everywhere.

“It’s just infectious. It’s great.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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