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December 19. 2012 11:23PM

Pierce's 40 points leads Celts' charge against Cavs


Boston's Paul Pierce drives to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of Tuesday night's game. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

BOSTON - Paul Pierce scored 17 of his season-high 40 points in the first 8:18 of the third quarter and then combined with Rajon Rondo to hold off a fourth-quarter Cleveland comeback as the Celtics ended a three-game losing streak with a 103-91 victory.

The loss was the fifth in a row for the Cavaliers, who fell to 5-22 with their 20th loss in the last 23 games.

Pierce scored 15 points in the first half and then blistered Cleveland in the third quarter, scoring 12 straight Boston points at one stage before going to the bench with his team ahead by 20.

The Cavaliers, playing without big man Anderson Varejao (knee), charged back and closed to within two points with 9:04 left in the game. But Pierce then scored eight points and Rondo six as Boston again broke it open.

Pierce, whose career high is 50, was 13-for-16 from the field, 6-for-7 from 3-point range and 8-for-8 from the foul line. He had eight rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes.

Rondo finished with 20 points, eight assists and four rebounds, while Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 22 points and rookie Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 20.

The Celtics, coming off an 0-3 road trip, led 80-60 with 3:17 left in the third quarter, but the Cavs went on a 12-2 run through the rest of the quarter, with Irving recording his own 7-0 burst in the final 1:23.

That cut the Boston lead to 10 and Cleveland, with Irving resting on the bench after playing 30 of the first 36 minutes, scored the first five points of the fourth quarter.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers quickly shuttled Pierce and Rondo back into the game.

Rivers made two starting lineup changes, with Jason Terry starting at guard and veteran center Jason Collins getting his first start as a Celtic. Terry scored 15 points (12 in the second half) and Collins had one point and two rebounds but fouled out in 23 minutes.

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Notes: Varejao, averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per game, had 22 points and 10 boards in Tuesday night's loss to Toronto but was hurt in that game and was scratched Wednesday. ... Rivers reinserted Terry into the starting lineup in place of Courtney Lee; saying, "Right now, until Avery (Bradley) comes back, for Jet (Terry) he just doesn't get involved when Rondo's not on the floor, when he's not playing with Rondo. He had two shots last night. It has nothing to do with anybody else. It's more just trying to keep Jet involved. He needs to be out on the floor with a point guard that can deliver the ball to him." ... The Celtics host Milwaukee on Friday before another road trip (Brooklyn, LA Clippers, Golden State and Sacramento). ... Bradley, who had surgery on both shoulders during the offseason, has returned to practice and is close to rejoining the team. When he does, he will give Boston much-needed defense in the backcourt. "They're saying January, around the first or second," Bradley said. "We're just going to see how I feel. We're hoping for the next home game after the West Coast trip. ... The Cavs host Indiana Friday night. ... The teams held a pregame chapel meeting to pray for the victims in Newtown, Conn. A 26-second moment of silence was held before the game, with the names of the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary victims displayed on the big video screen


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