Celtics' defense steps up to halt four-game losing skid
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was hoping his team would turn up the defensive pressure in Friday night's game against the Pacers.
The coach got his wish, and Boston ended a four-game losing streak with a 94-75 handling of Indiana, the first-place team in the Central Division.
The 75 points allowed marked a season-best for the Celtics, while the Pacers, whose two-game winning streak ended, managed to beat their previous low of 72.
Kevin Garnett, shifted back to center, scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being ejected for a Flagrant-2 foul with 8:24 left in the game; probably about two minutes before he would have been done for the night, anyway.
Rajon Rondo, still playing with a bruised hip, had 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds, while Paul Pierce had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Jared Sullinger had seven points and 10 boards off the bench, but he fouled out for the second straight game.
David West (17.2) and Paul George (16.9), Indiana's two-leading scorers, were each 4 for 18 from the floor, as the Pacers shot 31.8 percent overall and went just 4 for 17 from 3-point range.
Tyler Hansbrough, who entered the game averaging six points per game, came off the bench to lead the Pacers with 19 points in 23 minutes, while West (10 points) and Roy Hibbert (seven) both had 10 rebounds. George coming off a hit December and a huge game Wednesday night, had none points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Celtics led by two five minutes into the second quarter but then ran off 11 straight points over a 1:25 span and the run grew to 17-4. Boston wound up leading by 12 at the half and then used another spurt to go up by 19 with 6:12 left in the third quarter. The lead was 20 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
In addition to still missing star Danny Granger, who still hasn't played this season because of a knee injury, the Pacers were also without valuable guard George Hill, who missed his second straight game with a groin injury.
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NOTES: Indiana's Lance Stephenson hit a 3-pointer with 6:26 left in the first quarter and was then hit with a technical foul for taunting in the direction of the Boston bench. Pierce missed the free throw, the Celtics' only attempt at the line in the quarter. ... Brandon Bass was back in the starting lineup for the Celtics as Rivers reunited the starting lineup that was in place through the first two rounds of last year's playoffs, before Avery Bradley was lost. The move sent Garnett back to center and Jason Collins to the bench. "We want to stay as big as possible, what we didn't like with Jason in the (starting) lineup was -- now we're going to play him every night, and when he and Kevin were off the floor, we got small quickly," Rivers said. "This way we can keep a big on the floor at all times." ... The Celtics visit the Hawks Saturday and Knicks Monday, while the Pacers open a three-game homestand against Milwaukee Saturday night. ... The Celtics returned Kris Joseph back to the Development League, while fellow Syracuse rookie Fab Melo remained in town for concussion evaluation that won't take place until next week. ... Ready to face the No. 1 overall and top 3-point defense in the league, Rivers, whose team had gone six straight games without scoring 100 points, joked pre-game, "We should score 130 tonight with the way things are going, you just never know.".