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CLIPPERS 102, CELTICS 100

House brings down the Celtics at the buzzer

LOS ANGELES -- Eddie House threw in a running, off-balance, desperation 19-footer with 1.8 seconds left that hit nothing but net to give the Clippers a 102-100 victory over the Celtics last night at Staples Center. It would be hard to imagine a more demoralizing defeat for Boston, which has lost four straight and 10 of 11.

A pair of free throws by Ricky Davis pulled the Celtics within 5 points (99-94) with 1 minute 32 seconds left. An eight-second violation by the Clippers, followed by a 3-pointer from Paul Pierce, made it a one-possession game with 1:15 to go. Another turnover by the Clippers allowed Marcus Banks to get on the break. Going up for a layup, Banks was taken down by House. The officials called a flagrant foul, giving Boston the ball after Banks made one of two free throws. Banks then went inside for another layup, which gave Boston a 100-99 lead with 46.1 seconds left.

On the other end, Marko Jaric missed a 3-pointer, but Keyon Dooling grabbed the long rebound. Dooling got fouled and went to the line, but he made only one of two shots, tying the game, 100-100, with 27.7 seconds left. In a scramble for the rebound off the missed free throw, the Celtics came up with the loose ball and called a timeout. Pierce (18 points) missed an 17-footer with 9.9 seconds left, giving the Clippers one more chance to win the game.

"It was wonderful how they fought back and put themselves in position to win," said Celtics interim coach John Carroll. "It's a shame that we didn't win because in my opinion, tonight they deserved to win, but they didn't earn it. They didn't get it done in the last two possessions."

Since the Clippers were playing the second game of a back-to-back set and coming off a nine-game road trip (albeit broken up by the All-Star break), it was reasonable to expect they would be the more fatigued team in the second half. The Clippers also dealt with travel problems, returning to LA at 1:30 p.m. yesterday after their charter experienced mechanical problems. But it was the Celtics who seemed to fade.

The home team easily extended its 1-point halftime lead in the third quarter. An 18-7 run gave the Clippers an 81-69 advantage with 2:10 left in the third. Boston played a big role in handing LA a double-digit lead by committing six turnovers during the spurt. The Celtics' seventh turnover in the quarter came on a shot-clock violation just after the Clippers' run ended. The Clippers finished the third ahead, 85-75.

Despite LA extending its halftime advantage, the third was a display in poor shooting by both sides. The Celtics shot 25 percent (4 for 16), while the Clippers went 9 for 24 from the floor (37.5 percent). It was the worst shooting quarter by both teams in a game that featured little appealing play.

If not for the three-team trade involving the Celtics, Hawks and Pistons, Jiri Welsch would not have started last night's contest. Carroll wanted to change Welsch's role and bring him off the bench. Carroll thought a reserve role might alleviate some of the pressure Welsch was putting on himself to perform better. As it turned out, Welsch just needed to keep playing. He led the Celtics in scoring at the break, recording 16 of his 20 points in the first half.

But Welsch's efforts and double figures in the first half from Pierce and Davis (23 points) were not enough to give Boston the lead going into halftime. The Clippers took a 59-58 advantage into the break after leading by as many as 7 points in the second quarter. The Clippers pieced together a 19-7 run to establish a 50-43 edge with 5:11 remaining in the second. During the later stages of the run, Elton Brand picked up where he left off on offense in the opening quarter, finishing the first half with 24 of his 39 points.

Unlike Brand, Boston's big men were more absent than present in the first half. The Celtics ran into trouble in the first quarter when Mark Blount and Chris Mihm each picked up a pair of early fouls. That forced seldom-used Michael Stewart into action. Also, Pierce aggravated the back spasms he suffered against Sacramento, briefly leaving the game with 3:49 left in the first. He returned to start the second with the Celtics ahead, 36-31.

By the end of the first, the Clippers unexpectedly found themselves down a man after Quentin Richardson was ejected with 50.4 seconds left for arguing a foul call. That seemed to bode well for Boston, considering what Richardson did when the Clippers defeated the Celtics, 95-86, at the FleetCenter Feb. 4. In that game he hit a franchise-record eight 3-pointers en route to a game-high 36 points.

Last night, Richardson left the contest with just 3 points.

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