CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Paul Pierce has put the Boston Celtics on his shoulders and carried them through some tough times — all the way into a tie for first place.
With the Celtics battling a series of injuries and playing without Ray Allen, Pierce has been on a scoring tear.
And he didn’t let up Monday night.
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Pierce scored a season-high 36 points and the Celtics held on to beat the Charlotte Bobcats 102-95 to move into a share of the Atlantic Division lead with the Philadelphia 76ers. Both teams are 27-22 with 17 regular-season games remaining, although the 76ers own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Pierce said taking on a bigger burden of scoring doesn’t bother him at all.
“I think I’ve been feeling that way for the past couple of weeks now as far as needing to be more aggressive when I have the opportunities within the flow of the offense,” Pierce said.
Pierce shot 10 of 20 from the field, made 15 of 18 free throws and added 10 rebounds and four assists. He has scored 20 or more points in five of the past six games and is averaging 22.4 points during March.
“I wanted to be aggressive and just saw lanes tonight and I just wanted to mix it up between driving to the hole and hitting jump shots,” Pierce said. “My teammates set me up with a lot of down screens and pick-and-rolls that enabled me to get into the lane.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Pierce played in “attack mode” right from the opening tip. Pierce had 17 points in the first half.
“We like to post him up a little more than we were doing,” Rivers said.
Kevin Garnett had 24 points for the Celtics.
Rivers said he didn’t mention to his team about moving into a tie for first place.
“For us we have to keep plugging along and keep playing,” Rivers said. “It is important, but we’ve still got some games left. Since the All-Star break we haven’t played well every night but we’re winning some of the games where we don’t play well.”
Gerald Henderson had 21 points for the Bobcats (7-40), who have lost six of their past seven and remain the only team in the NBA with fewer than 10 wins.
Charlotte’s bench outscored the Celtics 59-9, led by 18 points from Byron Mullens and 16 from Derrick Brown.
Despite the loss, Bobcats coach Paul Silas was pleased with his team’s play.
“We competed and this is the way it’s going to be from here on out,” Silas said. “I told our guys prior to the game that we have to run, we have to push the ball up and we have to finish — and we did. We had lob passes that we hadn’t had before and this is the way we’re going to play. We’re going to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Boston seemed poised to put this one away early.
With the game tied at 13, the Celtics went on a 14-0 run with Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo combining for 12 points — most of those coming inside the paint.
They stretched the lead to 33-15 by the end of the first quarter, taking advantage of the Bobcats’ inability to score. Charlotte shot 29 percent from the field and didn’t hit a field goal in the final 6:47 of the first quarter.
But Charlotte showed some fight, pulling to 52-50 at halftime as Mullens and Reggie Williams began to heat up from the outside. The Bobcats shot 65 percent in the second quarter and scored 35 points to get back in the game.
“They got back in the game because of their bench,” Pierce said. “They came in and played with a lot of energy. I don’t know that we were expecting that much from their bench.”
Rivers wasn’t happy about the second quarter, although he didn’t blast his team at halftime.
“I didn’t feel like I had to address it,” Rivers said. “If we’re a quote-unquote defensive team then we have to be better than that.”
Boston led by as many as 12 in the second half but the Bobcats stayed close, closing the gap to four down the stretch.
However, Pierce scored on a pretty crosscourt feed from Rondo and Garnett knocked down a jumper from the top of the key to seal the victory.
NOTES: Silas picked up a technical foul during the first quarter, giving him seven on the season — one behind Rivers, the league leader. … Brown handed out a career-high seven assists for the Bobcats. … Rondo finished with 13 assists, marking the 25th time this season he’s had double digits.