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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
3-on-3: Celtics vs. Bobcats (Game 24 of 66)

By Chris Forsberg

Mark L. Baer/US PresswireKevin Garnett either took a blow to the chest or is going for a high note.
The Boston Celtics (13-10, 9-6 home) own three four-game winning streaks this season and will look to get over that fifth-game hump Tuesday night when the Charlotte Bobcats (3-21, 1-13 away) visit TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). To preview the matchup, we go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb.



1. Paul Pierce will almost certainly pass Larry Bird on the list of Celtics' all-time scorers Tuesday. Just how important has Pierce been to this team this season?


Payne: Pierce has been the team's most important player, especially in the last two or three weeks. He kept the Celtics afloat and eventually helped them thrive while Rajon Rondo was out, and he's continued to help carry them offensively, even with Rondo now back in the fold. Without Pierce, things would be a heck of a lot bleaker in Boston right now.

Robb: For the importance of Pierce, you need to look no further than the C's record this season. They started 0-3 without him, struggled through a 5-6 stretch as Pierce struggled to work himself into shape after the heel injury. Over Boston's past 10 games however, The Truth has done it all for this team, averaging 22.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists, 1.4 steals per game all while shooting over 40 percent from downtown. He also wore the point forward hat for eight of those ten games without Rajon Rondo sidelined. The C's have gone 8-2 over that stretch, and should have been 9-1 barring a final minute meltdown against the Cavs. So has Pierce been very important? I'd say he's the team's MVP far and away.

Forsberg: I just keep going back to Pierce's insane PER (player efficiency rating) of 21.6, easily his highest of the Big Three era and top 25 in the league despite the fact that he really struggled over the first three weeks of the season. Pierce is carrying this team as if he's got Raef LaFrentz and Ricky Davis next to him (like he did when he had a career best PER of 23.6 during the 2005-06 season). Every time that "Who's the most important of the Big Three" debate comes up, I don't know if we give Pierce enough credit. At least this year, there's no argument for anyone besides the captain.



2. Besides looking ahead to Thursday's visit from the Lakers, is there any reason for the Celtics to be worried about the Bobcats?


Payne: Not particularly. Bottom line: Charlotte is arguably the worst offensive team in the NBA, while the Celtics have reestablished themselves as one of the league's elite defensive teams. As long as the Celtics show up, defensively, they won't have any trouble garnering another easy win.

Robb: Any team can win on any given regular-season night in the NBA. It's a lesson Kevin Arnovitz bestowed upon me years ago in this crazy league. With that said, that's the best I can do for a worry here. The Bobcats are missing arguably their three best players due to injury, have lost 11 straight games, don't do anything particularly well on either offense or defense. If the C's decide to show up and play even a little bit of defense, they should be OK in this one.

Forsberg: The only statistical category that the Bobcats rank among the top 10 in the league is blocks (4th overall, 140 swats). So clearly their only hope is that Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo reject at least half of the shots Boston puts up. Even that might not save them.



3. JaJuan Johnson has made the most of recent court time. Is he ready for an honest-to-goodness role on this team?


Payne: Is he ready? It sure looks like it. Will he get the minutes needed for such a role? Probably not. As well as Johnson played on Sunday, those minutes were a result of Brandon Bass being out. The C's will most likely stick with their four usual front court players (O'Neal, Garnett, Wilcox, and Bass), but Johnson could see more time if injuries hit again or if Doc Rivers feeds him spot minutes at the end or beginning of certain quarters.

Robb: He's making a strong case for one, that's for sure and he'll have another chance to prove it tonight in what could be another blowout. Has he earned regular rotation minutes? Not yet, but he's earned the right to see floor time against opposing benches with favorable matchups for him. As long as JaJuan can't be bullied by a big man on the block, he's a major asset to this team's bench, especially on the offensive end. At the very least, he gives Doc another viable option in these games, something we weren't sure of as he recently as a week ago.

Forsberg: The only thing working against Johnson right now is the depth in front of him. If Brandon Bass is healthy and Chris Wilcox with the energy he's displayed lately, it's going to be tough to find frontcourt minutes (even if Wilcox or KG shuffle up to the 5 spot). That said, you can't help but drool at that athleticism when Johnson is on the floor. Maybe it's just because the Celtics haven't had that sort of player recently, but it's a lot of fun to watch him operate. The more reps that Doc Rivers can find for him, the quicker he'll develop and potentially help this team if/when injuries crop up later in the year.