Reserve Jeff Green scored 13 of his 19 points in the second quarter as the Celtics took the lead for good on Wednesday night, and Boston moved back into a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference by beating the Indiana Pacers 92-80.
The victory left the Celtics and Chicago Bulls (48-18) with the same record in the race for home-court advantage through the conference finals. Boston had lost three of four to fall out of the top spot, including a defeat to the non-contending New Jersey Nets on Monday night.
"I think they're motivated every night, particularly after a tough loss," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Chicago taking over the top spot in the East, [the Celtics] knew they needed this game and they brought their 'A' effort. It was too much for us."
Paul Pierce scored 20 for Boston, and Rajon Rondo had eight assists but struggled from the floor for the second straight game. The Celtics point guard was 1-for-10 in the Nets loss, and he was 0-for-2 and scoreless against Indiana.
But the bench made up for it, turning a five-point deficit into a three-point lead; the Celtics never trailed again.
"I think the second unit collectively came in and gave a big spark," Green said.
A key part of the trade that sent center Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trading deadline, Green has emerged as the stalwart of the Boston second unit, averaging 11 points and 26 minutes. Glen Davis had nine points and nine rebounds, and Delonte West played 16 minutes in his first game back from a sprained ankle — just his fourth since Thanksgiving.
Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal are still recovering from injuries that have limited their contributions.
"The addition of Delonte really gave them some real good vibes," Pierce said. "That unit, they are coming together. When Shaquille gets back, that's going to bolster our second unit, also."
Josh McRoberts had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Indiana. Tyler Hansbrough, who had back-to-back career highs in a pair of victories against the New York Knicks this week, was 4-for-14, scoring 10 and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Danny Granger scored 15 one night after hitting a go-ahead jumper with 0.3 seconds left to help the Pacers sweep the home-and-home series with the Knicks following a six-game losing streak and move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. But they fell to 0-3 this season against Boston, a potential first-round playoff opponent.
"It's tough [playing on consecutive nights], especially when you go against one of the better teams in the league," Hansbrough said. "They've got some tough guys to play against. It's tough, especially the way they play defense."
Paul George scored 15 points and Darren Collison had 10 points and nine assists for the Pacers.
Indiana opened a 17-9 lead in the first, but the Celtics cut it to five points at the end of the quarter. Trailing 23-18 early in the second, Boston scored eight straight points — seven of them by Green; the Celtics starters returned and added a 15-2 run later in the second quarter to open a 13-point lead.
The Celtics honored announcers Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman before the game for 30 years together – the longest run for a broadcasting tandem in NBA history. There was also a video from commissioner David Stern. … West returned after missing eight games with a sprained right ankle. He played 17 minutes and scored two points. … Indiana shot 37.5 percent from the floor.
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