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Celtics notebook

As for leadership, there’s work to do

Brandon Bass’s shot is blocked by Pacers’ Roy Hibbert in the first half of the Celtics’ victory in Indianapolis. Brandon Bass’s shot is blocked by Pacers’ Roy Hibbert in the first half of the Celtics’ victory in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / April 8, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - Paul Pierce has mentioned that the Celtics lacked mental toughness often over the past few weeks.

He said it after the loss in Denver March 17, when Kenneth Faried grabbed 16 rebounds in 24 minutes. And he said it after the March 7 loss in Philadelphia, when the Celtics fell apart midway through the first quarter. And he said it again following Thursday’s 93-86 loss in Chicago.

“The Bulls outworked us,’’ he said Saturday morning before the team faced the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We just didn’t give a full effort.’’

The Celtics played with strong discipline and passion in their 86-72 win over the Pacers. Boston extended its lead to two games over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division.

Pierce is the team’s captain and despite the presence of fellow veterans Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, said he feels the responsibility for ensuring his teammates are focused and he plans to take more of a visible action.

“I definitely could aid in it,’’ said Pierce, who led the Celtics with 24 points but did not speak with the media afterward. “Be more vocal in timeouts when I sense it. You know when you are on the court you sense [slippage]. Sometimes we’re tired body-wise or mentally tired from what’s going on. That definitely has to come individually, you have to wake up.

“When you have an 11-point lead and had a chance to push the lead up, you sense how they gathered momentum. Our lack of execution, lack of discipline kick in and we didn’t recover from it [Thursday].’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who undressed his team after the game by calling them “cool’’ and their effort “a joke,’’ said the players understood more after watching video Saturday morning.

A new start

Rivers said Avery Bradley will start for the time being and Allen will come off the bench to provide more offense to the second unit. The coach added that he wanted to give Allen one final chance to start when he returned from a six-game absence with a sore right ankle, but his slow start Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs convinced him that Bradley would provide more early spark.

Bradley struggled offensively for the second straight game, scoring 4 points with five turnovers. Allen, meanwhile, tallied 19 points in 33 minutes as a reserve.

“That’s what we want to do,’’ Rivers said of bringing Allen off the bench. “We’ve been waiting for someone to play well enough to do it. It was supposed to be [Mickael] Pietrus which is the guy we were supposed to go to. That kind of goes by the wayside.’’

Bradley drew the difficult matchup of Indiana’s 6-foot-8-inch swingman Paul George, the biggest shooting guard he faced during his starting stint. George had trouble with Bradley’s aggressive defense and missed all seven shots.

“They played terrific defense,’’ George said. “I couldn’t look over my shoulder or do any of the things that I normally do.’’

Conference confab

It was a Big Ten feel at the team’s shootaround with Celtics Greg Stiemsma (Wisconsin), JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore (Purdue), and Indiana University coach Tom Crean, who watched the team’s morning workout and had conversations with Rivers and Stiemsma. Crean coached Rivers’s son Jeremiah at Indiana . . . Rivers said he was not sure if Pietrus began his concussion tests but he had not heard from head trainer Ed Lacerte. The Celtics are hoping Pietrus can return by the playoffs . . . Rivers used an eight-man rotation Saturday, opting to keep Keyon Dooling on the bench for his first DNP-coach’s decision of the season. Dooling missed all of his previous games with injuries . . . Garnett is 23-for-62 shooting (37 percent) in his past four games . . . Rajon Rondo turned in his 16th consecutive game with at least 10 assists. He collected 12, eight in the first quarter. He also received a flagrant foul for swatting Danny Granger in the head on a breakaway layup attempt . . . The Celtics have 33 steals in the past three games.

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