(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jason Collins celebrates with Celtics captain Paul Pierce.BOSTON -- Afforded the opportunity to practice twice this week as part of a brief two-game homestand, the Boston Celtics made the most of their time, putting an emphasis on the basics while reaffirming their intentions to be a defense-first team.
After Avery Bradley returned Wednesday, the Celtics reassembled their familiar starting 5 from last season in hopes of rekindling the spark that carried them to the cusp of the NBA Finals. And buoyed by a training camp-like session during Thursday's practice, Boston put together its finest defensive performance of the season in a 94-75 triumph over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night at TD Garden.
The Celtics forced the visitors to shoot 31.8 percent (27-of-85 overall), including a mere 23.5 percent (4-of-17) beyond the 3-point arc. Boston was unrelenting with its defense, sticking around early when its own shots wouldn't fall, then utilizing a couple of middle-quarter bursts to push its lead as high as 24 en route to ending a dreadful four-game losing streak.
"We played defense, simple as that," said rookie Jared Sullinger. "We went back to training camp, pulled out some old drills, refreshed our memory. That let us know what we needed to do. And that’s what we did."
The Celtics, whose defense has essentially been missing for the first 31 games of the season, won't overreact to one win -- heck, they couldn't really even savor it, scrambling for a midnight flight to Atlanta for the second night of a back-to-back against the Hawks on Saturday -- but the way Boston prevailed on Friday makes this the blueprint for success this year.
"This wasn’t an empty win ... it was like a substance win," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It doesn’t mean anything, honestly, because you have to keep doing it. It’s a substance win in the sense that, I keep saying, we needed a blueprint on how we should play. I don’t know if this wasn’t the best one, but then we have to do it again tomorrow, and then the next one. It’s the first step."
Said Bradley, whose on-ball defense has made an immediate impact for Boston, "Everything's starting to come together as a team and we've just got to continue to take steps forward and we'll be the team that we wanted to be from the beginning of the year."
But as Rivers has preached all season, his team needs to string multiple 48-minute efforts together before getting too excited. Friday's win -- and the two days of practice before it -- represented merely a nice first step for a previously staggering Boston squad.
"You've got to start somewhere," said captain Paul Pierce. "When you come off a four-game losing streak and you get an Indiana team who's been playing well, you look for anything to build off of. So this is a positive night, hopefully we can move forward. We've got some tough games coming up in front of us. Atlanta has been playing well, New York's been playing well, so this could be the start of us building. If we can go on the road and get two good wins, then you can definitely see the progress."