Paul Pierce played more than 44 minutes in Orlando on Thursday night, then boarded a plane with his Celtics teammates and arrived in Boston after 3 a.m. Friday.
If he was tired, he didn't show it.
One night after helping Boston erase a 27-point deficit and beat the Magic, Pierce scored 17 of his 28 points in the third quarter as the Celtics pulled away from the Indiana Pacers to win 94-87.
“I like to come out in the third quarter and just be aggressive,” said Pierce, who also had 10 rebounds and eight assists. “You can make your run. You can't really settle on the lead. I try to focus on extending the lead, being more aggressive and getting better as the game goes on.”
Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus added 13 points and eight rebounds apiece as the Celtics won their fourth straight game despite playing without starters Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O'Neal.
Pierce was 4 of 7 from 3-point range, one of them to break a 46-46 tie early in the third quarter. He added two more baskets as the Celtics ran off 11 points in a row to take the lead for good and extend it to double digits.
“Hats off to Paul Pierce. He turned back the clock,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously, he's playing like one of the best players in the league again, carrying the load for them. They deserved to win tonight.”
The Celtics had a home-and-home series with the Magic this week, beating them in Boston on Monday and then falling behind by 27 in the first half in Orlando on Thursday before holding them to eight fourth-quarter points in a 91-83 victory.
The Celtics flew back to Boston and arrived early Friday morning; most of the players went to sleep, but the coaches stayed up to prepare for the Pacers.
Meanwhile, Indiana was in Boston, resting.
“They were going to try to run us out of the gym,” Rivers said. “This was a tough game against a good team that had a day off, waiting for us.”
Danny Granger scored 21 points for Indiana, which had beaten Boston both previous meetings this season — both times by more than 10 points. Paul George scored 16 with nine rebounds and David West had 14 points and eight rebounds.
It was 46-all with 8:44 left in the third quarter when Pierce hit a 3 to break the tie. In the next 2 1-2 minutes, Pierce fed Avery Bradley for a layup and then, after Roy Hibbert was called for an offensive foul, Pierce hit a layup, Garnett made a jumper and then Pierce drove for another basket to make it an 11-point game.
“This was their night,” Hibbert said. “Paul Pierce made some real tough shots. He's been leading this team since Ray and Rondo went out.”
The Celtics were up 90-80 with 35 seconds left when Pietrus was called for a flagrant foul under the Pacers' basket and a technical for taunting. After three free throws, the Pacers got the ball trailing by only seven. But Garnett blocked Granger's attempt to drive for a layup, and the Celtics were able to make their free throws to run out the clock.
The Celtics opened the second half with a 42-34 lead, but the Pacers cut it in half on two quick layups by Granger and then tied it at 46 with 8:44 left in the third quarter when he stole a bad pass from Pierce and brought it in for another.
Reserve Chris Wilcox had 14 points and six rebounds, and Brandon Bass had 12 points for Boston.
NOTES: Hibbert left the game in the second quarter with a right ankle sprain, but he returned in the third. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. … The Pacers had been 4-0 on Fridays. … Wilcox had 10 points and six rebounds at the half. … Garnett is the only Celtic to have played in every game. … The Celtics are 3-0 without Allen (left ankle) and 4-1 without Rondo (right wrist). … The Pacers were 1 for 19 from 3-point range.