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Paul Pierce keeps getting stronger. His Celtics keep getting stronger with him.
After an 0-3 start, the Celtics are now 4-3, just percentage points behind the Philadelphia 76ers for first in the Atlantic Division.
Despite 13 first-half points from Pierce, the Celtics still entered halftime down 35-34, mostly due to Nets guard MarShon Brooks. A Brooks free throw just over a minute into the third made it 38-34 before a 6-0 Celtics run gave the Celtics a two-point lead.
Up 47-44, Boston called timeout midway through the third, and the Celtics came out firing after, scoring 14 of the next 16 points and building a 15-point lead they would never relinquish.
After Pierce found Bass for a jumpshot, Pierce himself hit two three-pointers in a row two put Boston up 55-44. Pierce got to the line twice later in the run, sinking three of four free-throws.
Avery Bradley (11 points, two assists, two steals in 23 minutes) set up Pierce’s second set of free-throws with about as good a 20 seconds of basketball as one could ask for. Bradley sank a deep trey with just under two minutes left in the third, then robbed point guard Jordan Farmar on the other end. Pierce went to the line after drawing a foul on Farmar, putting the Celtics up 61-46.
The Celtics rebounded extremely well Wednesday, especially in the third quarter. Only two of the Nets’ 10 offensive rebounds came in the third, and the Nets missed both second-chance opportunities. The Celtics, meanwhile, yanked down nine defensive rebounds.
The Celtics out-rebounded the Nets 45-34 overall Wednesday. Bass led the team with 13 (including four offensive) to go along with his 15 points. Garnett finished with 12 rebounds and 14 points.
In his first game back from a sore hamstring, Jermaine O’Neal played just 18 minutes, lowest among the starters and behind both Bass and Bradley coming off the bench. O’Neal finished the game with two points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
O’Neal did most of his damage in the first quarter, scoring off a pass from Pierce to put the Celtics up 5-2 early on. He also pulled down the defensive rebound that set up the basket.
O’Neal’s first of two offensive rebounds in the first led to a three-pointer from Pierce that put the Celtics up 14-10. Rajon Rondo assisted on the trey – one of 12 from Rondo Wednesday. Rondo has now recorded double-digit assists in five of the first seven games of the season, including the last three.
O’Neal also blocked a shot from former Celtic Shelden Williams. He left with two personal fouls at 1:59 in the first.
Greg Stiemsma replaced O’Neal at center, scoring one, grabbing five boards and blocking a shot in 12 minutes.
Bass replaced O’Neal for good early in the third period.