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Celtics are putting it together

They've been resourceful despite effects of injuries

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / March 28, 2012
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The NBA is calling this the regular season, though it has been anything but for the Celtics.

On Monday, the Celtics jumped out to a 33-15 first-quarter lead in defeating the Charlotte Bobcats, 102-95. A week earlier, a couple hundred miles south, the Celtics trailed Atlanta, 15-12, after one quarter on the way to a 79-76 win.

In between, the Celtics visited Milwaukee and Philadelphia, stopping off at home to play Washington. The Celtics won four of those five games, continuing a climb that started after the All-Star break.

The Celtics (27-22), who host Utah Wednesday night, have won 12 of 17 games since Feb. 28. They have shown they will contend for the Atlantic Division lead, which would mean no lower than a No. 4 playoff seeding. But the Celtics have had to be resourceful to do so.

Their first game after the All-Star break was an 86-83 win at Cleveland, thanks to the scoring of Ray Allen (22), the rebounding of Chris Wilcox (11), and the reserve play of Mickael Pietrus, who contributed 9 points in 16 minutes.

Allen has missed the last three games with an ankle injury but could return Wednesday. Wilcox is out for the season with a heart condition. And Pietrus (concussion) is out indefinitely.

The Celtics have been able to find effective combinations, thanks to strong play from the starters and inspired contributions from the second unit.

Victories over Washington and Charlotte could have been expected. But before the All-Star break, when the Celtics were compiling a 15-17 record, there were few givens.

Now, though the Celtics remain inconsistent, there is evidence they are getting into a playoff mind-set.

“It’s that point of the year now, we’re 40 or 50 games in,’’ said captain Paul Pierce. “So it’s important that I have to start getting to a comfortable flow heading into the playoffs.’’

Pierce had 36 points and 10 rebounds against the Bobcats.

“Paul was in attack mode all night,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “That’s why you have great players - one of them steps up and you win the game.’’

But Rivers has had to do some coaching. He challenged the Celtics to improve defensively after they squandered most of their lead in the second quarter against Charlotte.

“We gave up a 35-point quarter, I don’t have to say much,’’ Rivers said. “If we’re a ‘defensive team,’ to have a quarter like that . . .

“They made shots, but we have to be better defensively than that.’’

The Celtics have discovered an effective backcourt duo with Avery Bradley joining Rajon Rondo - though the combination developed out of necessity, after injuries to Allen and Pietrus.

Rondo had 13 assists against Charlotte, his 10th successive double-figure assist output. Rondo is averaging 10.7 assists per game, 13.0 since the start of the Celtics’ long road trip March 11.

Bradley’s shooting was erratic in his first season and early this season. After 18 games, he was shooting 36.5 percent from the field. Since then, Bradley’s percentage is 54.6, as he has gained confidence on the perimeter and exploited openings with back-door cuts.

“He’s another athletic guard that is able to come in and run with me,’’ Rondo said. “He’s starting to create plays in the fast break for us.

“He’s been a great addition right now. With guys hurting, other guys are stepping up. I’m happy to play with him. He’s a great listener. He wants to get better each game and he’s working hard.’’

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

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