The All-Star that's led the Boston Celtics to the best record in the NBA might be out, but the All-Star that's led them for the past nine seasons is still around - and still playing awfully well.
Paul Pierce, fresh off his best game of the new year, looks to lead the Celtics to their fourth straight win without Kevin Garnett on Tuesday when they visit the Indiana Pacers.
Boston (39-9) has been without Garnett for the past seven games since he suffered an abdominal strain on Jan. 25, and it improved to 5-2 in those contests on Sunday with a 98-90 win against San Antonio - its 16th victory in as many games against Western Conference opponents this season.
Pierce led the way with 35 points, his second-highest scoring game of the season. He scored 37 on Dec. 27 in a 104-96 win at Seattle.
"We just want to continue to play well, get through this part of the schedule where we can get some guys back off the injured list and go into the second half of the season," said Pierce, who's averaging 22.6 points over his last five games.
Garnett will miss this game and the Celtics' home matchup against New York on Wednesday, their last game before the All-Star break. Next week Boston will hit the road for five more games against West teams.
With Kendrick Perkins out due to a strained shoulder, little-used Leon Powe got his first career start against San Antonio following some strong play off the bench since Garnett was injured. He's averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in his last seven games.
Point guard Rajon Rondo continues to play well for Boston, and he was a difference-maker on Sunday despite only scoring five points. Rondo had a season-high 12 assists to go along with 11 rebounds, the third time he's led the Celtics on the glass since Garnett went down.
"Every time he leads the team in rebounds, we win," Pierce said. "So keep crashing the boards, Rondo."
Pierce had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Boston's first meeting against Indiana this season, a 101-86 win on Nov. 13. He's scored at least 30 in three straight games against the Pacers.
Indiana (21-30) has won consecutive games and despite having lost seven straight prior to those victories, sits just a game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers' most recent win, 101-93 over Portland on Saturday, was their first at home since Jan. 16.
"Two wins in a row was really big for us," guard Kareem Rush said. "We're riding a little high right now. We know Boston's coming in here short-handed, but they're going to put up a great fight."
Rush has averaged 14.1 points in his last 12 games and has given Indiana a strong outside threat. He's shooting 45.3 percent from 3-point range over that stretch.
Danny Granger has been the Pacers' best player all season, averaging 18.0 points, and he's scoring 22.3 and grabbing 5.3 rebounds while shooting 45.2 percent from beyond the arc in his past 12 contests.
Granger is averaging 17.0 points on 67.6 percent shooting in his last four games against Boston.
The Pacers, like the Celtics, are suffering through injuries to key players. Jermaine O'Neal has missed the last 11 games with a bone bruise in his knee, Jamaal Tinsley has sat out the past two with a sore knee and second-leading scorer Mike Dunleavy didn't return after halftime on Saturday because of a bruised knee.
Tinsley is out until after the All-Star break, while Dunleavy is listed as day-to-day.
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