CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a locker room cloaked in gloom from a fresh defeat, Paul Pierce perked up when the subject turned to Brandon Bass.
The Celtics captain praised the muscular forward’s performance against Oklahoma City Sunday, when Bass pulled down a career-high-tying 13 rebounds in a 91-79 loss.
Bass’s performance isn’t something Pierce — or anyone on the Celtics — has lauded often this season, because on too many nights it seems as though Bass is doing little else beyond filling a uniform.
But against the Thunder, Bass grabbed more rebounds in a game than he had all season, including five on the offensive end. Oklahoma City has a thick front line with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, and Bass threw his 6-foot-8-inch frame around well, displaying energy unseen in months.
“That’s the Brandon we need every night,” said Pierce, whose Celtics face the bottom-feeding, 13-50 Charlotte Bobcats here Tuesday night.
On one play with a few minutes to go in the third quarter, Bass brought the Boston bench to its feet. Pierce had just launched a 3-pointer from the right wing, and Bass hung near the left corner, approaching the rim as the ball did.
Perkins anchored the left block and thought he had an easy rebound, but Bass sneaked around Perkins and was suddenly at his right side. They leapt simultaneously, each stretching out an arm, and Bass ripped down the rebound.
As Bass prepared to spring back up, several Celtics reserves began to rise and the players stood and pumped their fists when Bass dunked with two hands between the swatting arms of Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha.
“I’ve got to be better, as far as being consistent, as far as defending and rebounding,” Bass said. “[Sunday] was a cool night to start doing that.”
He’s averaging 7.6 points per game, down from his career high of 12.5 a season ago. He’s averaging 5.1 rebounds, down from his career high of 6.2 last season.
This season, when Bass is on the court, the Celtics’ defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 102.5. When he’s on the bench, that rating is 95.3.
But when he was on the court against the Thunder, the Celtics’ defensive rating was 93.4, a stout improvement from when he wasn’t on the floor (101.9) and a strong figure overall considering Oklahoma City’s high-powered offense.
“He was very sound, very decisive in what he did,” Kevin Garnett said. “He moved the ball. I thought there were times when he was aggressive. He was active throughout the whole game.”
“With [Rajon] Rondo out, we’re different, so my role is a little different,” Bass said. “I think me coming out and defending at a high level, I’ll be giving us something every night.”
That would help, because, as Pierce said, “We don’t have a lot of room for error on this team. We need everybody to come and play each and every night.”
At this point last season, the Celtics were 22-19 and it’s doubtful that anyone honestly believed that team would advance to within one game of the NBA Finals.
Doc Rivers said even he didn’t believe that team would go that far.
But in terms of the upcoming playoffs, Rivers said he knows Rondo’s absence will be felt.
“Not having that playmaker will make a difference because the game slows [in the playoffs] and it makes you execute,” Rivers said. “We’ll see then. This team is capable of going deep and doing some things. I really believe that.”
Entering Monday, the Celtics were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, 2½ games behind the Nets for fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round.
So, will the Celtics go all out to climb the standings?
“We want home court and we’re going to go for it,” Rivers said, “but if it comes down to giving a guy rest to be fresh and ready for a playoff [series], we’re always going to side that way.”
The Celtics re-signed forward Shavlik Randolph to a second 10-day contract. His first contract expired at midnight Sunday. Randolph has yet to play for the Celtics.