Rajon Rondo had 20 points and 16 assists to help the Celtics beat the hapless Bobcats 94-82 Sunday night despite playing without three of their star players.
But the Celtics won anyway as Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass each scored 22 points to help complement a long and productive night from Rondo, who logged 42 minutes playing on the tail end of a back-to-back-to-back.
"Rondo said, 'Hey, I'm ready for 48 (minutes),' " Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "And I said, 'There's no doubt about that.' He ended up with 42, which wasn't bad."
Rondo came out briefly at the end of the third quarter after taking a shot to his right biceps but did return.
"I wanted to play 48 to see where I was conditioning-wise," Rondo said.
Rivers said it was a big win considering the Celtics were without three guys who combine for 49.2 points per game. He said that's a great sign as the Celtics begin gearing up for the postseason.
"I keep saying our locker room is as tight as maybe it's ever been," Rivers said. "They cheer for each other. They pull for each other. They wanted to win this game. They really did. Because, when you sit guys, people just assume you're going to show up and play. And our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room. I didn't know if we were going to win tonight, but I knew we were going to play hard."
Bradley hit 9 of 14 shots from the field and finished one point shy of tying his career-high. He hit a big 3-point midway through the fourth quarter to put the Celtics up by seven.
"Rondo is our leader and he played the whole first half and kept us going," said Bradley. "Having a player like that on your team just kind of keeps you going."
Center Greg Stiemsma also stepped for the Celtics.
He started in place of Garnett and tied a career-high with six blocks and altered a few other shots. More importantly, he stayed out of foul trouble.
"That's my role to come out and play physical and play with energy," Stiemsma said. "Some nights they call it a little tighter than others and I have to get a feel for that right away. Tonight it set the tone early on how I was going to play."
The loss was the Bobcats' 16th straight, tying a dubious franchise record set earlier this season. If the Bobcats lose their final seven games this season they will finish with the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history.
Gerald Henderson led Charlotte with 22 points.
"You prepare anticipating (the big three) were going to play," Henderson said. "When they start their bench guys -- even though they're still really good players -- it's a little different game. It just didn't turn out well for us."
Despite being down to 11 healthy players, the Celtics shot 62 percent from the field in the first quarter and jumped out to a 34-23 lead. Rondo set the tone with 12 points and seven assists in the opening quarter.
The Bobcats were able to pull within four in the fourth quarter, but Bradley hit a big 3-pointer from the corner. Bass then followed that with a jumper from the foul line and Mickael Pietrus knocked down another 3-pointer from the wing to get the lead back to double digits.
The Bobcats, who couldn't seem to find a rhythm on offense, never really challenged again.
"One of the problems we have is we don't have post-up people," Bobcats coach Paul Silas said. "Gerald Henderson is our only guy and he really shoots a jumper over people and he makes it, but that's about all we have. So you have to play on the outside, run pick and roll a lot. That's the kind of thing we play for."
Silas hoped his team would be able to run on the tired Celtics, but Boston actually had two more points off fast breaks.
With the Celtics already having clinched a playoff spot, Rivers decided to leave Garnett and Pierce at the team hotel in the New York area after Saturday night's game against the New Jersey Nets to rest. The Celtics have a game Tuesday night at New York.
Allen, who is nursing a sore right ankle, wasn't expected to play and remains in Boston. He's listed as day-to-day.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams and North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried took in the game courtside Sunday night. ... Jamario Moon played his first game for the Bobcats after spending most of the season with the Developmental League. He did not score in 13 minutes of action. ... Bass' 22 points were a season-high.
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