Celtics know: Defense wins games

BOSTON -- The last time the Celtics shot 62.3 percent from the field, they left the Garden with a 36-point victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 26, 1988.

What's more, Boston led by 19 at halftime and by 34 after three quarters. If the old Garden had Gino -- and a JumboTron to highlight his smooth American Bandstand moves -- they could have cued it up while Artis "A-Train" Gilmore and Brad "Big Bird" Lohaus enjoyed some extended court time.

While the 2009-10 Celtics equaled that shooting percentage, connecting on 48 of 77 attempts overall, these players enjoyed no such big-lead luxuries. Sure, Boston's advantage surged as high as
17 when it cranked up the defensive intensity in the third quarter, but the Celtics weren't even confident enough to put Gino on the JumboTron with a 15-point cushion and 3:12 to play.

Not when the opposition shot 55.7 percent overall. Not when the Celtics trailed by a point at the intermission.

"Usually [when] you come into the half and you shoot 67 percent, the way we did and the way we passed the ball, we should have been up 10 to 15 points," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "So we're still a work in progress. You know we're trying to put four quarters together, instead of stretches. The way we move the ball, when we shoot at this rate, we should be able to beat anybody. It should be a blowout, so we still got some ways to improve.

"We still got a ways to go."

On a team that believes defense will bring it Banner No. 18, the offense produced a banner night. The mere idea that this unit has "a ways to go" might leave the Raptors with cold sweats on the flight back to Toronto.

Boston's starters combined to connect on 34 of 51 attempts (66.7
percent) for 80 points. Both Kendrick Perkins (8 for 8,
18 points) and Kevin Garnett (6 for 6, 12 points) posted perfect games. Ray Allen (8 of 15) finished with a team-high 20 points.

The Celtics shot 83.3 percent (15 of 18) in the first quarter; 52.6 percent (10 of 19) in the second quarter; 60 percent (12 of 20) in the third quarter; and 55 percent (11 of 20) in the fourth quarter.

Boston's previous best shooting percentage was 58.1 percent in a 118-90 thumping of the Bulls on Oct. 30.

So it was the fact that the Celtics needed to shift into another gear in the third quarter just to pull away that left a bit of a sour taste after the win.

"It's funny, at halftime I said, 'The first team that plays defense wins guys,'" said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "The third quarter we were terrific. Listen, they're a hell of an offensive team and we didn't deal with it very well in the first half. I thought the third quarter was sensational...

"[Director of Basketball Development] Ty Lue, who hasn't been around a lot, said, 'That's the Celtics' defense... That's what I heard about.' And that was terrific."

So what exactly happened in the third quarter and why haven't the Celtics been able to bottle it so far?

"We just turned the pressure up," said Garnett. "We've wanted to start each quarter, especially the third quarter, with a lot of energy and I thought we did that tonight."

Garnett noted there's still a bonding process going on with the newcomers, particularly defining their roles in the defensive end. No one in the Celtics' locker room is quite sure when it will all click, but they don't seem worried.

After all, it's only Game 16 out of 82. The Celtics are playing this entire season with a longer-range goal in mind.

"It's still early in the season," said Rasheed Wallace. "I'm not expecting this team to play the type of defense like when they won [the NBA championship in 2008]. I'm not expecting them to play the type of defense that they did over the last two years late in the season. It's like I said, it's still early. Once it's late in the season and if these things are still happening, then it's time for concern."

So what are the Celtics right now?

"I don't know what we are," said Rivers. "I am liking us. I do think over the last three to four games -- or the last two to three games
-- we're improving. You can see them starting. I like where we're going right now."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.