The defense didn't rest

BOSTON -- Shelden Williams sounded like he couldn't quite believe the number.

"Fifty-nine?" he repeated back, more startled than seeking confirmation of the loser's total after the Celtics thumped the Bobcats, 92-59, Wednesday night at the TD Garden.

"Obviously, I haven't seen that since college. That's a great defensive performance by us. The opposing team scoring in the 50s, you don't really see that."

On the positive side for the Bobcats, they avoided infamy when Gerald Henderson's 19-foot jumper with 5:58 remaining in the fourth quarter dented the Celtics' lead to 76-50, assuring the team would surpass the NBA record for fewest points (49, by the Bulls on April 10, 1999).

On the negative side, Boston forced 18 turnovers, registered 10 steals, held the Bobcats to 31.1 percent shooting overall, and absolutely flustered the Charlotte offense with constant pressure and deflections.

The Celtics limited the Bobcats to 20 percent shooting (3 of 15) in the first quarter.

After being shut out over the first five minutes of that first quarter, the Bobcats endured another scoreless stretch of more than six minutes to start the second half. Over those two stretches alone, the Celtics outscored Charlotte, 23-0.

While numbers like those forced newcomer Williams to do a bit of a double-take, Boston's defensive domination was met with far less shock by center Kendrick Perkins.

"I think night in and night out, we want to come in and defend more than anything," said Perkins. "Obviously, you've got to put points up to win the game, but I just think we want to defend."

The Celtics generally haven't lacked defensive intensity in recent years, at least since Kevin Garnett came to Boston.

But coach Doc Rivers identified something special in this year's team and challenged his charges to be remembered like the 1985 Bears: one of the greatest defenses of all time.

"Doc brought it to our attention in the preseason," said Perkins. "We just kind of built from there. Doc asked if we wanted to be the best defensive team in history, like the '85 Bears. I think we've bought into it. We're playing intimate team defense and we just need to continue to do that."

The '85 Bears are a bit of a sore subject in these parts, since Chicago rolled to a 46-10 triumph over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. But the Celtics wouldn't mind lessening the negative vibe by placing themselves in the company of the Bears, who allowed just 11.5 points per game while going 15-1.

"It's one thing to talk about it and another thing to actually do it," said Williams. "We're striving to [be the best defense], but we've got work to do. That's the mindset we have to have day in and day out. We're stressing defense every single play, ever single minute."

Which is why the Celtics enjoyed every moment of Wednesday's defensive-dominated victory. Asked what he prefers, shutting the opposition down or shining on the offensive end, Garnett didn't hesitate.

"Shutting people down," he said. "Because we work so hard in practice, man. Y'all have no idea what our drills are like.

"You know the majority of our practices are schemes. How we're going to defend, consistencies, schemes night-in and night-out for different people on different types of teams. But we work at it every single day.

"Every day, it's the same thing, same repetitive stuff, if not more. You know, when you shut a team down, that's hard work and effort."

Bobcats coach Larry Brown lauded the Celtics and criticized himself for not having his team ready to play. Charlotte players swear they're better than they showed Wednesday night. They'd better be.

But maybe, just maybe, these Celtics are capable of being the greatest defensive team in NBA history. Maybe it's not hyperbole. It sure looked that way Wednesday.

"When you feel like you're forcing turnovers, it's just like it gets contagious and guys were everywhere," said Pierce. "It's great to watch."

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