NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The days of Avery Bradley being just defensive guard for the Boston Celtics are seemingly over.
Bradley hit three straight 3-pointers and scored 11 of his 18 points in a game-deciding third quarter as the surging Celtics defeated the New Jersey Nets 94-82 Saturday night.
``No one is talking about it but he is probably the most improved since he has been in the lineup, `` point guard Rajon Rondo said after the Celtics won for the 10th time in 13 games and the 20th in 28. ``I know he hasn't done it all year but the time he has been given, we haven't had a lot of practice time, but once Doc (Rivers) threw him in he was ready to go. He has never looked back and he has continued to grow. He is playing well every game and he is always positive and it shows on the floor.'
The 21-year-old Bradley hit 7 of 14 shots, including 3 of 4 from long range. Prior to this game, he had never hit more than one 3-pointer in a game and had made only 9 of 30 all season.
``We know what he can do,' veteran Paul Pierce said of Bradley. ``It's just about him developing his confidence and I said it over and over again, the more he plays and the more we show confidence in him. This kid was highly touted out of high school and was one year and out out of college. We know he can play. It's just about developing him and working his confidence. You see it night in and night out how it has grown.'
Kevin Garnett had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Celtics, whose magic number for winning the Atlantic Division was reduced to four.
Rondo added 15 assists, Brandon Bass had 18 points and Pierce 17 points for Boston, which limited New Jersey to 34 second-half points in beating the Nets for the third time in three games this season.
The Celtics dropped a game in Toronto on Friday night with a bad second half and they were not about to let it happen on Saturday.
``We came out a lot more aggressive,' Garnett said. ``We ran our system and our things and defensively we slowed them down a bit and never looked back.'
Gerald Green had 15 points to lead New Jersey, while rookie Jordan Williams had 12 points and career-best 14 rebounds in recording his first double-double.
Deron Williams had 12 points and 14 assists for the Nets, who had won six of their last nine in their best run of the season. MarShon Brooks added 13 points.
New Jersey was in position to add another win after tying the game at 48-all on a buzzer beater by Green at halftime.
The second half, however, was all Boston, much to the delight of the many green-clad fans in the sellout crowd of 18,711.
``They played harder and played better,' Deron Williams said. ``They took us out of our rhythm, and then we couldn't stop them at the other end.'
The third quarter decided the game with the Celtics outscoring New Jersey 26-13. Bradley was the catalyst in a late 13-4 spurt in which he hit three straight 3s from the right corner, inches from the Nets' bench.
``Avery got hot and we rode him,' Garnett said. ``He gave us three big threes in that stretch to open the game, and on top of that he was playing defense and initiating a lot of energy off some of the turnovers we were getting. You couldn't ask for anything better.'
New Jersey made 6 of 25 shots in the third quarter and didn't do much better in the fourth, scoring one basket in the opening 4 minutes as the Celtics led by 17 points.
NOTES: Pierce stubbed his left big toe in the fourth quarter and it was bothering him after the game. ...The Nets weren't thrilled with the officiating and Deron Williams and Avery Johnson were both whistled for technical fouls. ... Jets coach Rex Ryan sat at courtside and got his share of boos from the many Celtics fans. ... Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter John Legend also was on hand, and got more cheers than Ryan. ... Celtics veteran G Ray Allen missed his third straight game with soreness and swelling in his right ankle. Coach Doc Rivers said he will not play in Charlotte on Sunday and is 50-50 for the game in New York on Tuesday. ...Because of traffic delays getting from New York to New Jersey, the Celtics didn't arrive at the Prudential Center until 65 minutes before the tipoff.
The Associated Press News Service
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