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CELTICS 103, PACERS 88

A little faith goes a long way for Celtics

Fill-in coach finds winning strategy

The Celtics’ Paul Pierce seems unaware of the Pacers’ Danny Granger as he puts up a shot. Pierce finished with 22 points in the Celtics’ come back victory at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Celtics’ Paul Pierce seems unaware of the Pacers’ Danny Granger as he puts up a shot. Pierce finished with 22 points in the Celtics’ come back victory at Conseco Fieldhouse. (AP Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Different late-game strategy. Different end result.

Without Doc Rivers on the sideline yesterday and with assistant Tony Brown in his place, the Celtics finished strong in the final contest of their four-game road trip. Rivers missed the game because of the death of his father-in-law, and remained behind in Orlando. He is expected back tonight for the Celtics' home game against the Lakers.

In a bold move, Brown went with young reserves Tony Allen, Gerald Green, Kendrick Perkins, Orien Greene, and Al Jefferson at the start of the fourth quarter. Rivers usually sends out Paul Pierce or Wally Szczerbiak and some mix of veteran starters and young bench players to start the fourth. It was just a hunch, ''a roll of the dice," said Brown, but one that worked and gave the starters extra rest that proved useful as Boston easily closed out a 103-88 comeback win at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle complimented the moves Brown made throughout the game and said the Celtics' top assistant ''did a great job taking over" for Rivers. But the Boston players were initially unsure about his biggest move in the fourth.

''I was a little concerned at the beginning when [the reserves] took the first two shots, didn't move the ball, just jacked up quick shots," said Pierce (22 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds). ''But after that, I think they settled in and did what they had to do. It was one of their better efforts this year. It takes a lot of pressure off [the starters] when you can have these guys come in and contribute."

The Celtics held a 72-71 edge entering the fourth, before the bench staged a 9-0 run. Boston took an 81-72 lead behind the scoring of Perkins and Allen, who tallied 11 of his season-high 14 points in the fourth. By the time most of the starters returned shortly after the eight-minute mark, the Celtics held a 6-point advantage.

Allen continued to make dramatic strides in his recovery from right knee surgery, most noticeably regaining the athleticism he displayed as a rookie. That was certainly the case yesterday as he slashed to the basket and drew fouls and scored on driving layups, dunks, and 3-pointers. Allen also displayed his toughness on defense, guarding Stephen Jackson during late possessions. Perkins played aggressively on both ends as well. Most of all, the young reserves appreciated the confidence Brown showed in them.

''I felt like we were playing more freely," said Perkins (7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks). ''We were just out there not thinking about making mistakes. If we made a mistake, [Brown] just stuck with us. It made us play through it. It was nice, laid-back. We've just got to come with it every night."

The victory prevented the Celtics (28-39) from going winless on the trip. It could not, however, erase the damage done to Boston's playoff chances with losses in Memphis, Miami, and Orlando.

''It's nice to get a win," said Brown, who made his regular-season coaching debut. ''We're going to give this win to Doc, even though he's not here with us. We know he's going through some tough times right now. From the coaching staff to the players, we want to send this out for him."

Brown added: ''It's been a long year and, obviously, a long trip. I just felt some of our guys [starting] were a little winded, a little tired. I just want to commend our bench that came in and gave us a big lift."

The Boston bench outscored the Indiana bench, 31-20, overall.

The Celtics entered halftime tied at 53 after trailing by as many as 14 (36-22) near the end of the first. Behind the scoring of usually rebound-minded Jeff Foster, who had four field goals in the first five minutes, Indiana easily built a comfortable lead. Boston spent the second quarter chipping away with scoring from starters and reserves before Pierce and Ryan Gomes closed the quarter with a 9-0 run.

Boston took the lead for the first time just 21 seconds into the third on a 13-footer by Pierce. The third featured five lead changes and a pair of ties, though the Celtics stayed in front almost the entire way. More than what Boston did, it was what Indiana couldn't do -- make a shot. The Pacers shot 29 percent (5 for 17) in the third. They scored just one field goal -- a 17-footer by Jamaal Tinsley with 51.8 seconds left -- over the final 5:20 of the third. Still, the Celtics finished the quarter holding the slimmest of leads, setting the stage for a showdown in the fourth for the third straight game.

And, in the end, a little bit of faith from Brown went a long way.

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