First-rate in third quarter

BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett would like to apologize to all the fans of the Maine Red Claws.

On other teams, young players such as J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson might be optioned down to an NBA Development League affiliate to get increased playing time. But the way the Celtics are playing this year, the fourth quarter has become a development tool in Boston.

For the second consecutive game, the Celtics used their depth Friday night to dominate the middle quarters, and Boston breezed to a 118-90 triumph over the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden.

So what exactly is coach Doc Rivers saying at halftime to motivate his troop?

"No letup," Marquis Daniels said. "A lot of teams come out lackadaisical. We're doing a great job of coming out with high energy and just playing great. We get it to the second group, and the second unit keeps it going."

So far this season, teams haven't had an answer for the Celtics' depth. In all three of its games, Boston has been able to hand off to its bench and not worry about losing any of its lead.

While playing the Celtics' second unit, the opposition expends so much energy just trying to stay in the game that when the starters reappear -- even if it's not until after halftime -- the other team simply can't keep up.

Not that the Celtics are giving them a chance.

"That's what we're stressing right now: When you have a team on its back, like when we're up 15 points at the half, we don't want to give them any confidence in the third quarter," said Paul Pierce, who scored 20 of his 22 points in the third. "It's important for us to come out the way we did and stretch the lead, so that we can have fourth quarters like this. When we have teams on their back, we have to keep them there."

The Bulls were down 15 at the half, but they had weathered a bit of a storm after falling behind early in the second quarter. Unfortunately for the visitors, Boston's first unit ensured there would be no attempts at a comeback.

The Celtics erupted for a staggering 38 third-quarter points, and Garnett's 21-foot jumper with 6:18 to play in the period made it a 29-point cushion at 74-45.

Get the starters' warm-up gear ready, tell Hudson and Giddens to start stretching, and cue Gino and the "American Bandstand" dancers.

"At the end of the second quarter, I thought we had golden opportunities to [rebound and run] and we just made the wrong decisions," Rivers said. "We talked about that in the third quarter. So they came out and did it. It was great. Obviously, those shots have to go in. When Ray [Allen] and Paul are making shots like that, that's pretty darn good."

It's becoming a familiar pattern. Bobcats coach Larry Brown described it as a "miracle" when he looked up Wednesday night and saw his team trailing by just three with 4:37 to play in the first half.

The Celtics promptly took over, building an 11-point lead before intermission, then outscoring Charlotte 25-10 in the third quarter. The starters and Rasheed Wallace spent the fourth quarter on the bench.

In the season opener at Cleveland, the Cavaliers exploded out of the gates and built a 14-point cushion in the first quarter. But the Celtics rallied to knot the score little more than four minutes into the second quarter and dominated the final 90 seconds of the half to not only pull ahead but carry a six-point lead into intermission. Boston then opened the second half on a 10-2 run, and Cleveland couldn't rally.

"We're in here at halftime just thinking about what we can do better," Allen said. But it begs the question: What can these guys possibly do better?

"Just continue to get better," said Allen (20 points on 7-of-9 shooting). "There's not ever a point where you get too happy or too content. Every team is a new challenge."

But lately, not every team has been a challenge. Which is why we've seen a lot of Giddens and Hudson.

"The thing is to stay aggressive," Garnett said. "When we came into the locker room, [we said,] 'Let's open up the third real big and let's be aggressive.'

"In '08, I thought we did a really good job being consistent like that. This year, that's the theme. I thought we got away from that a bit; I don't think we were as consistent last year. But this year, that's the theme. We're trying to come out and have some energy. Be real energetic in the third."