BOSTON (AP) – Celtics coach Doc Rivers never doubted that Paul Pierce would bounce back quickly after what might have been the worst game of his All-Star career.
“‘Cause he’s a great player,” Rivers said after Pierce scored 31 points to lead Boston past the New Jersey Nets 94-80 on Wednesday night. “Great players — they just don’t have a lot of back-to-back bad games.”
One game after going 0 for 10 and scoring one point in a victory over the Miami Heat, Pierce hit 10 baskets and 10 free throws to send the Celtics into the All-Star break with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Pierce, who complained afterward of minor injuries to his right hand and left foot, had never before played in a full game and failed to score at least two points. Only once had he missed more shots without making one.
“It definitely bothers me when I know I’m not right,” he said. “But as a scorer, you always forget that type of game. As a scorer, you have to forget your last shot, especially if you miss it.”
And then, with a laugh, he added: “Something was wrong with the rim or the ball.”
Kevin Garnett scored 14 points with 10 rebounds for Boston. Ray Allen scored 12 points and Rajon Rondo — Boston’s fourth All-Star — had seven points and eight assists.
Allen sank a 3-pointer with 5:58 left in the fourth quarter to give the Celtics an 80-78 lead and start them on a 16-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a blowout.
“Ray Allen — the last person we want shooting a 3 in the gym — he makes a 3 on us,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We just didn’t score from that point. Their defense just clamped down on us.”
Brook Lopez scored 18 points and Devin Harris had 16 for the Nets, who scored just 10 points in the fourth quarter and had just two free throws in the last 6:17 of the game.
Pierce scored seven points during the Boston run, including a 3-pointer with 3:57 left to give Boston an 85-78 lead. That gave him 1,542 made 3-pointers in his career, tying Tim Hardaway for 12th on the NBA’s career list — and a mere 1,022 behind Allen, who broke Reggie Miller’s NBA record last week.
Pierce and Allen will represent the Celtics in the NBA’s 3-point contest during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
“You’d hate to go into the weekend, trying to have fun, on a loss,” Pierce said. “This is a really emotional team. If we lost, it probably wouldn’t have been a fun weekend.”
The Nets did not score again until Derrick Favors hit a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left.
The Celtics had lost three of their last five games, but they head into the break percentage points ahead of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Miami in the East. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in an NBA finals rematch, Boston beat the Heat on Sunday to clinch the season-series against them.
The Celtics scored the first eight points of the game and led by 15 in the first quarter. It was a seven-point game with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half when Morrow hit a 3-pointer as the Nets outscored Boston 10-3 heading into the break to tie the game at 46.
New Jersey then made the first four baskets of the second half — two by Lopez, two by Harris — to take its first lead of the game and eventually open a nine-point lead. But it was all Celtics in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Nets F Travis Outlaw went down after collision with Luke Harangody in the fourth quarter, but he was able to walk off on his own. … The Nets called a timeout just 29 seconds into the game after the Celtics scored on their opening possession. … Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, who will represent the Celtics in the 3-point contest at the All-Star game, missed their first five shots from beyond the arc and finished 2 for 7. … The Nets won 104-96 in Boston on Feb. 27 last year for one of their four road wins in the season. They have won four already this season. … New Jersey is 0-9 vs. the Atlantic Division. … Celtics C Semih Erden returned to Turkey to be with his sick mother.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)