WALTHAM — In a seven-second stretch, Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass made the Celtics look big.
It was a rare scene for a team near the bottom of the NBA in shot-blocking this season, with an average of just 4.1 per game.
But in the first quarter of the Celtics’ 100-89 win over Charlotte Monday night, Bass and Garnett came up with two in a seven-second span.
First, Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tried going hard to the lane when Bass jumped away from Hakim Warrick to swat Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot straight out of bounds.
After collecting the inbounds pass, Kemba Walker took a few steps before launching a mid-range jumper, but Garnett left his inside mark to smack Walker’s shot away from the hoop.
The Celtics finished the game with eight blocks. Even Avery Bradley had two, marking just the third time in his career the guard was credited with multiple blocks.
“They play good team defense,” Walker said. “It’s tough to beat someone when you have to expect that someone else is going to step up.”
The improvement of help defense has been one factor in the Celtics holding opponents to an average of 85 points over their six-game winning streak.
Coach Doc Rivers lauded his team’s defensive effort Tuesday. And after two days without doing any offensive drills, Rivers said he’d finally throw one offensive piece into practice.
“Pulling in defensively, I think that’s the biggest change we have made where we’ve improved — guys hugging up on their man,’’ said Rivers. “I think we’ve finally figured out how to shrink the floor. I think it’s taken a lot of games to get there, but I think we’re there.”
The Celtics host a young New Orleans Hornets team Wednesday that has been getting blocked more than 6.6 times per game, fifth-most in the NBA.
The Hornets also rarely get to the free throw line, attempting just 19.7 free throws per game, third-fewest in the league.
The matchup favors the Celtics, who will look to extend their longest winning streak since rattling off 14 straight in 2010.
“We’re just playing hard,” forward Jeff Green said. “We’re covering for each other. We’re not going to be perfect, but as long as we’re playing hard, it’s going to make up for it.”
Bradley has been getting an unusual amount of free space on offense since his return from shoulder surgery seven games ago.
It’s been a routine at the TD Garden: Bradley sprints down the floor, sets up behind the 3-point line in one of the corners and waits all alone.
“He’s getting point-blank looks,” Rivers said. “Still, the league doesn’t think he can shoot, because the shots he’s getting are unbelievable. They’re wide open. And it’s every night. He’s just going to keep shooting it. And now they’re going in.”
In 64 games last season, Bradley attempted just 54 3-point shots (0.8 per game). In seven games this season, he has attempted 26 treys (3.7 per game).
Until Monday night, most of Bradley’s 3-pointers had been falling just short of the basket, with many bouncing off the front of the rim. But Monday, Bradley went 4 for 7 from 3-point range for a season-high 16 points. It was just the second time in his career that he sank at least four shots from downtown.
“He missed a lot of games,” Rivers said. “And when you miss games, you can play defense when you come back. Everything else is timing. He’s starting to get his timing back.”
Back on court
Chris Wilcox was set to practice again Tuesday as he recovers from a sprained right thumb that has kept him out of action since Dec. 18. The 6-foot-10-inch, 235-pound center dressed for Monday’s game but did not play. Rivers says he’ll dress again Wednesday and could see some game time. “He could have played [Monday], but we really didn’t want him to,” Rivers said. “[Trainer Ed Lacerte ] didn’t want him to. And Chris just wants to have a couple more practices. So, he’ll be available [Wednesday] for sure. Whether he plays or not, we’ll see.” . . . Seven-foot center Jason Collins, who has been battling minor hamstring and ankle issues, scored his first points in two games Monday. He had 3 points and 4 rebounds in eight minutes. Said Rivers, “He just comes in and does the same thing: Blocks shots, takes a charge, gets his body in the way. He’s going to bang.”