THE FACTS: Paul Pierce exploded for a season-high 40 points, helping the Boston Celtics hold off the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 103-91 victory. The win also snapped a three-game losing streak for the Celtics. Boston led by as many as 20 in the third quarter behind the hot shooting of Pierce, who hit a scorching 13-for-16, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
Cleveland did not give in to the Pierce scoring onslaught despite missing star center Anderson Varejao (bruised right knee). The visitors closed a 20-point deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, behind Kyrie Irving (22 points) and an underwhelming performance from Boston's second unit, before Pierce returned to put the game away. With the defeat, Cleveland has now lost five consecutive games, and 10 of 11 overall.
QUOTABLE: "I feel like the last few games I've been shooting the ball a lot better, three or four games now. I'm really coming along where I'm starting to get into a good groove offensively. The way my shot's going, picking my spots. So even before tonight I felt good."
-- Paul Pierce
THE STAT: The Celtics turned up the aggression early on the offensive end, attacking the hoop relentlessly to put pressure on Cleveland's defense without Varejao. The strategy helped them earn 23 free-throw attempts in the first half alone. The hosts failed to sustain that mentality, earning just four free throws over the final 24 minutes, which helped the Cavs crawl back into the game late.
TURNING POINT: After Cleveland closed Boston's lead to four with 6:07 remaining in the game, the Celtics stopped the bleeding with a 10-1 run, keyed by none other than Pierce who scored six quick points during the outburst to help finish off the Cavs.
QUOTABLE II: "There was nothing that we could do with [Pierce] tonight. Sometimes a guy like that, a future hall of famer, sometimes they get it going and there's really nothing much you can do and Paul got it going. He hit some shots tonight that I hadn't seen him hit, or play that way in a while. "
-- Cavs coach Byron Scott
HOT: Pierce -- Boston's captain could not be stopped in the third quarter, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the field, including three from beyond the arc. Pierce finished with 17 of his 40 points in the frame. It was Pierce's 24th 40-plus point game of his career, and first since April 18 in a loss against the Knicks.
NOT: Tristan Thompson -- The second-year forward failed to muster much offense in his battle with Kevin Garnett, going just 2-for-10 against the perennial All-Star in 38 minutes.
FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: Irving -- The top pick of the 2011 NBA Draft has rounded nicely into form since recovering from a fractured left index finger. Irving has averaged 24 points, three rebounds and four assists over five games since returning to Cleveland's lineup.
ROOKIE WATCH: Luke Zeller -- The 22-year-old rookie made the first start of his NBA career in place of the injured Varejao. Zeller had problems defending Garnett most of the night, but managed to post a career high 20 points and three rebounds over his 36 minutes of action, another career best for the former North Carolina star.
NOTABLE: Jason Collins earned his first start of the season at center, replacing Brandon Bass in the starting five...Collins fouled out in 23 minutes of action. Jason Terry also returned to the starting lineup for Boston after a three game absence, in place of Courtney Lee...Daniel Gibson sat out with an elbow injury for Cleveland. ...The Celtics have won 150 consecutive games when they have led by 19 or more points...Pierce became the oldest player in Celtics history to score 40 points in a regulation game...The Celtics held a moment of silence for all the victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
UP NEXT: For Cleveland, Friday vs. Indiana, Saturday @ Milwaukee, Wednesday @ Washington. For Boston, Friday vs. Milwaukee, Tuesday @ Brooklyn, Thursday @ L.A. Clippers.