Boston 112, New Orleans 92

BOSTON, March 28 (AP) -- Kevin Garnett's odd-looking, on-court message apparently got the point across.

Paul Pierce scored 27 points, Garnett added 21, and the Boston Celtics moved closer to wrapping up the top record overall by avenging last weekend's loss in New Orleans with a 112-92 win over the Hornets on Friday night.

In the midst of a tight game, Garnett wanted his teammates to pick up the intensity defensively midway into the third quarter, and he showed them when he dropped to his knees with his hands close to the floor while setting up to cover David West at the top of the key. West did drive by for a basket after Garnett squared up defensively, cutting it to 72-68, but the Celtics scored 19 of the next 24 points over the ensuing 5:56 to move ahead 88-73.

"In my mind the matchup started (Thursday) in practice,'' Garnett said. "(West) scored 37 when we played them in New Orleans. I took that a little personally. In my mind I do a lot of things on the court I can't remember. I was just trying to be aggressive on defense and be as aggressive as I could.''

Eastern-conference leading Boston (57-15) opened its advantage to six games over the idle Detroit Pistons with 10 games left. The Hornets (49-22) had a five-game winning streak halted. With the victory, the Celtics have beaten every team at least once this season for the first time since 1990-91.

"It always starts with our defense, and that's what we say every game,'' Pierce said.

New Orleans, which leads a strongly contested Western Conference, beat Boston 113-106 last Saturday night.

"I thought the second half they got real aggressive defensively. They did a great job,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said.

Rajon Rondo added 17 points and Ray Allen had 12.

Rondo certainly followed Garnett's lead.

"I know KG said this was a statement game for us, and I'm sure he's right,'' he said. "He's been in the game 13 years. I'm still learning the game.''

Chris Paul paced the Hornets with 22 points and 10 assists. Peja Stojakovic had 17 points and David West 14.

"We feel like it got away from us in the third quarter, but that's our fault,'' Paul said. "You cant take anything away from them. They have a great team, but we feel like we let one get away.''

Rondo keyed the decisive spree with consecutive jumpers that ignited a 12-0 run. Boston shot 68 percent in the third, hitting 13 of 19 attempts.

Eddie House nailed back-to-back 3s to push it to 96-78 early in the final quarter. House's jumper from the left corner pushed Boston's lead to 20 points with 7:31 to play.

New Orleans, which shot 60 percent in the second quarter, led 60-56 at the half.

Neither team had more than a six-point lead in the opening quarter that ended with Boston leading 30-24 before the Hornets' bench outplayed the Celtics' reserves during a 13-4 spree that opened the second quarter.

"I felt coming into the game, you knew Kevin was going to be better defensively,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "That's what makes him great.''

Notes: Rondo started after missing Thursday's practice with a sore right hamstring. "I don't feel it at all,'' he said before the game. He showed it with some spinning and twisting drives during his 8-point opening quarter. ... Scott has three players on his list that he'd consider as the MVP. "When you talk about MVP, it's three guys,'' he said, "LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant) and Chris (Paul).'' He was reminded about the night's opponent Garnett and responded, "He'd be in there, but he's got Ray Allen and Paul Pierce - two Hall of Famers.'' ... Rivers wouldn't get dragged into the topic about Scott omitting Garnett. "I think Byron's a smart guy, but I'm not getting into that thing. I'll pass,'' he said.


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