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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Observations from C's win over Wizards

By Greg Payne

Observations following the Boston Celtics' 100-94 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on Sunday.

All Pierce, all the time: Paul Pierce put forth a retro performance against the Wizards, finishing with a season-high 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 12-of-15 shooting from the free throw line. It was a monster effort from Pierce, in the first game in which he has truly looked comfortable, and, more importantly, like his old self. Pierce has been saying consistently ever since he returned from a heal injury at the start of the season that it would take him several games to revert back to form, and today might have finally been the breakthrough effort he's been talking about.

Pierce scored four points in the first, 14 in the second, two in the third, and another 14 in the final frame. His fourth quarter effort was perhaps the best sign from the captain, as the C's ran virtually their entire offense through him over the final 12 minutes. Going up against the helpless Nick Young and Chris Singleton, Pierce at one point scored 10 straight fourth quarter points for Boston from the 9:07 mark through the 5:43 mark. He followed that up with one of his finest plays of the night as he fed a cutting Brandon Bass on the left baseline, and Bass was able to absorb significant contact and still hit the shot while drawing the foul. Pierce then charged through Washington's defense and converted a strong layup of his own to put the C's up 93-86.

Pierce's comfort level on the floor Sunday can't be overstated. Sure, this performance came against a handful of players not known for their defense, but Pierce's classic mid-range game, which has been all but absent this season, was back in full form, and he utilized it expertly to repeatedly sink the Wizards. Hopefully this game wasn't a one-hit wonder for Pierce, and he'll be able to continue getting back into a comfortable flow offensively against the Magic tomorrow night.

Allen jams ankle, doesn't return: It was a feel-good win on a number of levels for Boston, but the obvious downside was the loss of Ray Allen. Allen jammed his left ankle midway through the second quarter when he collided with Washington forward Jan Vesely, who was attempting to set a screen. Allen immediately headed to the bench and then the locker room, where he was re-assessed at halftime and pronounced out for the final 24 minutes.

No injury bodes well for Boston right now, as they're still fighting for that ever-allusive consistently in their rotation. For Allen in particular, the injury came at a poor time, as he had already scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting and, like Pierce, once again seemed comfortable with his own offensive rhythm. Allen had averaged just 7.75 field goal attempts in the four games prior to Sunday's bout, and he was well on his way past that mark before he got hurt. Getting Allen more involved had to be a point of emphasis for Boston going into Sunday's game, which is why it's that much more unfortunate he went down, given that they were succeeding so well in that area.

Allen is currently listed as a game-time decision for tomorrow night's tilt against the Magic, but given the quick turnaround, don't be shocked if head coach Doc Rivers decides to sit him for a game, just to be cautious.

Celtics clutch in final minutes: Pierce drove the Celtics' offensive vehicle for much of the game, including in the fourth quarter, but he had some help from Kevin Garnett in the final minutes. Garnett, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds, charged down the lane with 1:57 remaining and threw down a thunderous right-handed slam, that had extra meaning given it being arguably his most athletic play of the season. Garnett then followed that slam with a decisive jump shot from the left side with just over 30 seconds remaining. Caught with no one to pass to, Garnett composed himself and dribbled into the shot that gave Boston a 97-92 advantage.

After a string of games in which they couldn't hang on in the fourth quarter (a 90-85 loss to the Mavericks, an 88-79 loss to the Bulls, and a 97-88 bow to the Thunder), the Celtics will draw encouragement from closing out an opponent over the final 12 minutes. Sure, it was the Wizards, but it still counts as progress for this group, and you won't hear any complaints from the locker room about winning a close game against any foe.

Bass, Pietrus make their marks: It's becoming clearer and clearer with every game that Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus will go down as arguably the most vital pickups for the Celtics this season. Bass continued his string of positive play with 13 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench, grabbing a crucial offensive rebound with 4:09 remaining that led to his clutch layup just seconds later off of a feed from Pierce. His energy isn't necessarily quantifiable in the box score, but Bass continues to be one of the most active players on the floor for the C's.

Meanwhile, Pietrus shot 5-of-8 from the field en route to a season-high-tying 14 points. He started the second half in place of Allen and further cemented himself as Boston's most important perimeter asset on the bench. His shot-making ability is much-needed in the second unit, and it can help to mask the hole that's created when someone like Allen or Pierce goes down with an injury.

Better, but far from perfect: There were far more positives than negatives in Boston's win on Sunday, but the C's still need to cut back on turnovers (17 against the Wizards for 15 points) -- an issue that has plagued them all season (and, really, since the Big Three came together in 2007). It was virtually a wash on the glass, even though Washington did finish with two more boards.

Boston's offense, on the whole, was much better than we've seen over these first few weeks of the season. The C's avoided another disastrous slow start by scoring 20 points in the first quarter, and igniting for 29 in the second frame on 9-of-16 shooting. 24 more points came in the third quarter, and Boston closed it out with authority by posting 27 points in the final frame. For the game, even without Rajon Rondo playing, the C's recorded 22 assists on 37 made baskets, assisting on 13 of their first 16 made field goals.

The Celtics will be back in action tomorrow night at home against the Orlando Magic at 7:30pm.