Pierce's perfect third quarter lifts Celtics to third straight win

BOSTON -- Paul Pierce brought the Boston Celtics to the midpoint of the season with their third straight win and with hope that they've regained the rhythm that produced a 27-2 start.

Pierce shook off a cold first half and scored 18 points in the third quarter by going 5-for-5 on 3-pointers to lead the Celtics a 118-86 win over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night.

The current streak follows a 2-7 slump and improved the Celtics' record to 32-9, two fewer wins than they had midway through last season when they finished 66-16 and won the NBA championship.

"I thought we had a really big bump in the road these last couple of weeks with consistency," Pierce said, "something we didn't have a year ago. Maybe it's something we needed to give us a gut check.

"When you go through something like that, you really find out what kind of team you are."

On Wednesday, the Celtics were the kind of team that got off to the best 29-game start in NBA history as they posted their third most lopsided win of the season. "

"They kicked us real good," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "When talent works hard like that, you get embarrassed."

Pierce led Boston with 22 points two nights after getting a season-high 39 in an overtime win over Toronto. The Nets also won in overtime that night, beating Oklahoma City.

But the only tie Wednesday was 0-0. And New Jersey's only lead was 13-11 on a 3-pointer by Bobby Simmons. Ray Allen then gave Boston the lead for good with a 3-pointer that made it 14-13 with 5:56 left in the first quarter.

"Even when you're winning, if you're not playing well, or right, for a coach it's not that enjoyable," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "If you keep doing that, when you need to play well, you won't. But I do think we're turning in the right direction."

The Celtics led 51-41 at halftime and opened their biggest margin, 112-79, on a basket by Patrick O'Bryant with 3:21 remaining.

Kevin Garnett scored 20 points for the Celtics.

The Nets were led by Devin Harris with 17 points, while Keyon Dooling and rookies Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez had 13 each. Anderson made his second consecutive start in place of injured Yi Jianlian after sitting out the previous four games.

"We really let them control the momentum in the third quarter," Anderson said. "They are a great defensive team [and] definitely altered our shots."

Pierce went just 2-for-9 and had four points in the first half. But New Jersey's Vince Carter was even worse -- 1-for-9 with four points in the half. Carter limped off the court with a sprained right ankle with 7:09 left in the first quarter but returned 5 minutes later. He finished with four points on 1-of-10 shooting.

The Celtics quickly stretched their 10-point halftime lead by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter and 13 of the first 15.

With the score 58-41, Pierce made his first 3-pointer of the quarter, Rajon Rondo hit a basket and Pierce sank a free throw. His other 3-pointers put Boston ahead 69-49, 74-53, 81-58 and 84-58.

"I don't get discouraged by misses," Pierce said of his first-half problems. "When we swung the ball [in the third quarter] I was wide open and stayed aggressive. I thought I was a little tentative in the first half."

Boston led 88-60 after the third period and Pierce rested throughout the fourth.

Both teams were missing big men. Yi is expected to miss four to six weeks with a broken finger and Boston center Kendrick Perkins sat out his third straight game with a sore left shoulder but is expected to return next week.

The Nets stayed close throughout the first quarter then lost their shooting touch by missing their first 10 shots of the second. That helped Boston stretch a 30-23 lead after one quarter to 41-25 before Harris hit a layup with 5:40 left in the period.

The teams meet again on Saturday night at New Jersey.

"We didn't have too much fight," Harris said. "We've still got a lot of work to do and I look forward to the next game."

Game notes
Red Sox pitcher Brad Penny attended the game five days after finalizing a one-year, $5 million deal. Former Celtics forward Walter McCarty also was there. ... The Celtics held big advantages in rebounding (45-32) and assists (28-14). Rondo had 12 assists, just two fewer than the entire New Jersey team. ... Celtics guard Eddie House suffered a mild sprain of his right ankle in the final minutes but said he expects to play in the next game Saturday.

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