Like a prize fighter, once that blow has been absorbed and Boston knows what it is dealing with, it becomes a bloodbath.
"You have a team on its back, it's important to keep them down there," said Paul Pierce, who scored 20 of his 22 points in a blistering third quarter of the C's 118-90 win over Chicago on Friday night. Pierce made all seven of his shots in the quarter, including five 3-pointers. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett added eight points in the third, which saw Boston turn a 15-point halftime advantage into a cakewalk.
"Paul said when we came out of the locker room, 'Let's open up the third and be aggressive,'" Garnett said. "I thought we've done a really good job of being consistent at that. … This year, that's the thing — we're going to try to come out with some energy, try to be real energetic in the third."
In reality, the energy has come a bit earlier than that.
In each of their three wins to start the season, the Celtics have either fallen behind early or found themselves locked in a tight affair in the second quarter. All three tiems, they have turned the tables in dramatic fashion.
Consider these runs, each of which spanned a portion of the second quarter and lasted until midway through the third:
– On Tuesday, after falling behind Cleveland 30-21 early in the second quarter, Boston outscored the mighty Cavs 45-22 to take control.
– Against Charlotte the next night, the Celtics led by three points with time winding down in the second, when Allen made a 3-pointer to begin an eye-popping 31-4 surge. When it was over the score was 63-33.
– After Chicago crawled to within two points early in the second, a Marquis Daniels jumper began a 53-26 stretch. By the time the Celts starters were done playing around midway through the third, they again had a 30-point lead.
Much of the in-game turnarounds can be traced to quality minutes from the bench. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers will always credit the defense. But the mid-game domination against the Bulls showcased an offensive efficiency that had been missing early on.
"That was beautiful to watch, man," Garnett said. "Them two [Pierce and Allen], they caught fire."
While "them two" were the ones finishing things off, it was Rajon Rondo in the driver's seat. Rondo had 16 assists — one shy of matching his career high — before he was removed with 10:15 left in the game. Nine of the assists came in the third.
"[At halftime, ESPN told] me that Rondo only had two shot attempts, I think, at the time," Rivers said. "I said, 'Yeah, but he's the most dominant player on the floor right now.'"
And that was before the third-quarter burst.
The Celtics are averaging 21.3 points in the first quarter. That number jumps to 26.3 in the second and 28.0 in the third. The fourth quarters, with the exception of the Cleveland game, have largely consisted of towel-waving, high-fives and key rest for the starters.
That may make the fourth quarters the most important of all.
"It's important to come out the way we did and stretch the lead," Pierce said, "so we can have fourth quarters like this."