C's show some fight

BOSTON -- With the Boston Celtics nursing a near 30-point advantage late in the fourth quarter and a message on the JumboTron advertising that Gino, Boston's celebratory American Bandstand dancer, was warming up backstage, Paul Pierce and Glen Davis playfully sparred in front of the bench during a timeout.

It was an appropriate visual considering that, just a couple of hours earlier, Pierce likened the final 23 games of the regular season to a boxing match, stressing that the Celtics needed to get their training in before the main event -- the postseason.

On a night in which Pierce produced one of his finest outings of the past two injury-riddled months, his team followed suit as the Celtics stomped the Charlotte Bobcats 104-80 Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Pierce registered a game-high 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting (4-of-6 3-pointers) with 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds and a block over 26 minutes.

"You don't just see teams turn it on once the playoffs start, the process is very important," Pierce said in a rare pregame confab with the media. "It's like when you go to a boxing match. You don't just step out there and fight. You have to build up and practice by sparring. That's what the regular season is, you have to get ready."

For much of the past two months, Boston has looked like a fighter content to sit on the couch, munch on potato chips and try his luck in the ring. Sure, they'd show up for sparring sessions, sometimes they'd even show shades of a former champion.

Then on Saturday, they got knocked out by a lightweight named New Jersey in what was supposed to be a breezy exhibition.

If the Celtics were bored by the process of the regular season, as his teammates suggested (and his coach didn't deny), Pierce, who was forced to watch Saturday's head-shaking loss to the Nets from the sideline while nursing a right thumb sprain, implored his team to wait no longer before beginning its postseason conditioning.

Boston still looked sleepy stumbling through a win in Detroit on Tuesday night, but returned home Wednesday with renewed vigor, drubbing the Bobcats for the third time this season, a veritable TKO for a Charlotte team fighting for its playoff life in the Eastern Conference.

Maybe, just maybe, the training process has finally begun for Boston.

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