BOSTON -- Brandon Bass seems to be heating up at just the right time for the Boston Celtics.
On the night future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett returned from their ankle woes, Bass went 9-for-12 from the floor and scored eight of his game-high 20 points during a big third quarter that sent the Celtics to a 107-96 victory over the Washington Wizards Sunday night.
Bass, averaging just 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the season, has averaged 16 points and 8.7 rebounds per game over the last four, shooting 57.4 percent from the floor. Three games before that, he scored 22 points in a game at Cleveland.
"I think it's been for a while," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "I think it started for him at the other end (defense and rebounding). With Kevin especially and with Jeff (Green, drawing the defense) ... he's just making open shots.
"He's just efficient. We still want him to rebound, we want the whole team to rebound more, but overall I think he's playing terrific. He's in a wonderful place right now."
The win moved the Celtics 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee in the battle for seventh and eight places in the Eastern Conference. The No. 7 seed avoids a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat.
Oh, and Boston only trails No. 6 Atlanta by a game and a half.
The Celtics don't run specific plays for Bass, but he finds himself open as opponents worry about the bigger names. Sunday night, Bass led five Celtics in double figures as Boston improved to 40-37.
"You know he's comfortable in everything he's doing," said Pierce. "The thing about Brandon is we don't run a lot of plays (for him), but he always seems to be in the right spots, available, taking advantage of his opportunities to move the ball, and that's what you're seeing."
Pierce, who had missed two of the last three games, first for the birth of his son and then with a tweaked ankle, logged 30 minutes and had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds. Garnett, returning from an eight-game absence that probably wouldn't have taken place if this was playoff time, played just 24 minutes and had 12 points and six rebounds.
"He affects us in so many ways," Bass said. "It was just nice to have him back."
Said Garnett: "I felt OK. I felt strong enough to play. I thought I was decent in my minutes and picked and choosed when I was aggressive. I did the things I typically do. That was it."
The Celtics shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game, but really put the game away with a 31-19 third quarter that broke open a four-point game.
Boston led by 18 points early in the fourth quarter. Washington did get to within 10 points, forcing Rivers to send both Garnett and Pierce back into the game. Pierce nailed a 3-pointer and Garnett set up a Bass jumper to balloon the lead back to 15.
John Wall led the Wizards (29-48) with 16 points but was just 3-for-13 from the floor after scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first quarter. Four other Wizards scored in double figures, and Emeka Okafor had eight points and nine rebounds.
"We came out and couldn't get a basket," Washington coach Randy Wittman said of the dismal third quarter. "They shot the ball extremely well. They were better than us tonight. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other team."
Said Nene: "They made tough shots. And they know basketball."
Big men Chris Wilcox and Shavlik Randolph were huge off the Boston bench. Wilcox, who has been losing time to Randolph, had 13 points (6-for-7 from the floor) and five rebounds in 20 minutes. Randolph (2-for-2) had eight points and seven boards in 15 1/2 minutes.
After the first quarter, Wall didn't score again until his steal and slam with a minute left in the third.
NOTES: The Celtics reached 40 wins for the 44th time in club history . . . .Avery Bradley, who suffered a collarbone bruise Friday night, started for Boston and had 10 points in almost 30 minutes. ... Randolph wound up with cotton in his nose for the second straight game. "He leads with his face," said Rivers. "Jerry Quarry." ... Wall, coming off a 37-point game, received a Flagrant-1 foul when he nailed Randolph in the third quarter. ... Jason Collins, dealt to Washington in the deal that brought Jordan Crawford to Boston, stopped by to visit Rivers after the game. ... The Wizards visit the sizzling Knicks Tuesday, while the Celtics host Brooklyn Wednesday night. ... The Wizards are 24-20 since Wall returned from his knee injury, including 18-4 at home, where they beat Indiana Saturday night in the front end of a back-to-back. ... Before facing his old team, which he left after he was angered over not starting, Crawford, who had six points in 16:19 of playing time Sunday, said, "Who? I don't recall playing for Washington." Asked if he had something to prove to the Wizards, he said, "To who?" ... Pierce received the eighth annual Red Auerbach Award from the team before the game. The award, named for the deceased patriarch of the organization, goes to the Celtic who represents the team well on and off the court.