By Shawn Clarke, NBA Contributor - Archive - Email
Are the good ol' Celtics back?

Since the All-Star break the Celtics have five straight wins.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Save your AARP jokes for another occasion because the Boston Celtics don't have any time for it.

Grinding out back-to-back wins in overtime should say something about Boston's longevity with aging stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen steering the ship back to respectability when it appeared all was forgotten following a 4-8 start to the season.

Known as the original "Big Three" before other teams such as Miami and New York jumped into the star-loading fray, Pierce, Garnett and Allen are putting their bodies to work in this post-All-Star break with five straight wins and completed a perfect four-game homestand with a 97-92 win over Houston in OT.

Pierce said his main role on the team is to score the basketball no matter how ugly it looks, just as long as the Celtics win. Winning didn't coincide with Boston basketball at first and the pundits came out in full force questioning the age and conditioning level of certain players.

Pierce, who passed legend Larry Bird for second on the team's all-time scoring list earlier this season, forced a lot of shots versus the Rockets and was an ugly 9 of 21 from the floor for a game-high 30 points. He admitted there are times when he plays too passive and that the team needs him to be more of the opposite, especially now in the second half of the season.

When the Celtics are going through their scoring drought, Pierce has been their savior despite averaging just 18.4 points per game -- a team high. The Celtics have five players averaging more than 10 points per game this season and Garnett is second with 15.1 ppg. Garnett had 13 points and 13 rebounds versus the Rockets, passing Shaquille O'Neal on the all-time rebounds list in the process. With veterans Pierce and Garnett, head coach Doc Rivers said players have to be healthy and good for a long time to reach NBA milestones.

Allen echoed his coach's words and shared his pleasure of playing alongside such talented teammates.

"It's a tremendous feat," Allen said of Garnett's achievement after Tuesday's win over Houston. "I sometimes don't understand or recognize the greatness that I'm playing with; just knowing that Kevin and Paul the things they've been able to do. It's an amazing accomplishment because we looked at guys growing up doing those same things and now I have teammates doing that. It's definitely an honor to be alongside of those guys."

Allen is no slouch himself in the twilight of his career and his jump shot alone deserves recognition in the Hall of Fame. The sharpshooter shook off an illness recently to post 21 points over the Rockets -- a contender in the West that will most likely make it to the postseason in a talent-congested conference. While it should be inspirational to play with Pierce and Garnett, defeating a postseason adversary in the Rockets without one's best stuff can only be more stimulating. And not to mention a big help mentally.

Triple-double threat Rajon Rondo wasn't even a factor last time out, but the Celtics needed his 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds in an overtime win versus New York on Sunday.

Rondo said the recent game was "probably one of the ugliest games we've played in awhile" and didn't score after the first quarter. How on earth can a team survive and pull out a win when one of the top quarterbacks on the hardwood scores just nine points? It's coherent a point guard's job is to distribute the ball, but the position also predicates a bit of a scoring touch on a nightly basis (like Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Chris Paul).

However, scoring hasn't been much of a problem for the Celtics, who are averaging 102 points per game in their last six. They are starting to put the heat on a sluggish Philadelphia 76ers team that will host Boston Wednesday night with first place in the Atlantic Division up for grabs. Who would have thought the Celtics would be in this position after they lost five straight from Feb. 15-22?

"We understand the urgency, especially this point in the season after All-Star break," Pierce said. "Right now it's that stretch run, and we understand it. We understand that we've got to take care of home. We understand that we have a huge road trip coming up and it's not going to be easy, so we can't just give away games right now."

Pierce couldn't be more on the nose about taking care of business at home with a 15-8 mark, but work still has to be done away from TD Garden (5-9).

Boston will head back to Beantown for a matchup with Portland on Friday before embarking on a grueling eight-game road swing against the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and the Sixers. It will be either feast or famine for Boston on the forthcoming trek because at least five of those teams will make it to the playoffs.

Regardless of how the Celtics fare in Philadelphia, they have temporarily tapped into their fountain of youth. It will be up to them to maintain it.
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