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Celtics 98, Spurs 90

Small wonders

Without big men, Celtics a little better than champion Spurs

Paul Pierce had every reason to smile after pumping in 35 points - including five 3-pointers - against the Spurs. Paul Pierce had every reason to smile after pumping in 35 points - including five 3-pointers - against the Spurs. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 11, 2008

There was a big road win against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The home victory over the Mavericks wasn't bad either. But with their three tallest players out, the Celtics might have earned their most impressive victory this season against the reigning NBA champion Spurs yesterday.

Without starting big men Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics defeated San Antonio, 98-90, in a nationally televised matinee at a sold-out TD Banknorth Garden. Boston is a surprising 16-0 against the mighty Western Conference.

"Well, any time you beat a quality team like the Spurs, it's a quality win," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "So, yeah, it's nice. Guys get up for different games. They play hard every night. But they really wanted this game. When you win a game, and I don't care who it is against and where it's at, with Kevin out, with Perk out, it's a significant win."

The Celtics are 5-2 without the 6-foot-11-inch Garnett, who is out with an abdominal strain that has forced him to pull out of Sunday's All-Star Game in New Orleans. The 6-10 Perkins missed yesterday's game with a strained left shoulder and is day-to-day. While he was available in case of an emergency, 6-11 veteran Scot Pollard hasn't played since Jan. 9 because of a sore left ankle. The Spurs, however, were without point guard Tony Parker because of left ankle inflammation.

"They're the best team in the league, so it's not shocking that they beat us," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who had 21 points and five 3-pointers. "We are not playing well. They have absences the same way that we do. I was expecting a really hard game that was tough to win."

Paul Pierce filled the scoring void for the Celtics with a game-high 35 points, including five 3-pointers. Ray Allen added 19 points, while reserve guard Eddie House added 10 points and two treys. Rajon Rondo had a career-high 12 assists and one turnover for the Celtics, who have an NBA-best 39-9 record and are 22-4 at home. The Spurs are 32-17.

"I don't know that this game really sends a message," Pierce said. "We just want to continue to play well."

The Celtics started Brian Scalabrine (2 points, 1-of-5 shooting) in place of Garnett and Leon Powe (5 points, 4 fouls) for Perkins. But reserve forward Glen Davis gave Boston some much-needed punch in the post offensively and defensively with 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in 33 minutes. The rookie also played tough defense on Spurs superstar Tim Duncan, who had 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists but also had 6 points on 2-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. Duncan lost in Boston for the first time in his illustrious NBA career; the Celtics hadn't beaten San Antonio in Boston since Jan. 8, 1997, a streak of nine consecutive losses.

"It was amazing to be out there with Tim Duncan, knowing that he is one of the greatest," Davis said. "The matchup against him today meant a lot for my confidence and also for my team. I think my team gave me a lot of confidence, my coach gave me a lot of confidence putting me out there, and you know it just felt good."

Said Duncan: "They got some good play from Glen Davis."

The Celtics went into halftime with a 43-41 lead after both teams shot 42.1 percent from the field. Boston, however, missed 6 of 12 free throws before intermission. Pierce had 14 of his 18 first-half points in the first quarter.

Boston outscored the Spurs, 25-20, in the third quarter to take a 68-61 lead. After being up by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, Boston's lead was sliced to 2 (83-81) after Ime Udoka's layin with 3:59 left. The Celtics responded with an 11-6 run capped by two Rondo free throws with 16 seconds left to take a 94-87 lead that gave them the breathing room they needed.

"In the end they just played better basketball than we did," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They were a little sharper, and they took care of the ball a little bit better than we did. They made some shots when they needed to, got some rebounds when they needed to down the stretch, and that was the difference in the ballgame."

After the All-Star Game, the Celtics will get challenged again out West with a road trip against Denver, Golden State, Phoenix, Portland, and the Los Angeles Clippers. And in March, Boston has a five-game trip that includes San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and New Orleans.

Of Boston's success against the West, Allen said, "It doesn't really matter except when the Finals come if we are fortunate to still be out there still playing. We have a lot of basketball ahead of us, we are approaching the All-Star break, and we have a West Coast swing that we are going to be tested [on], so we want to get some wins when we go out that way."

Said Pierce: "We realize we have to go back out West in about a week or so, so we just want to continue to play well, get through this part of the schedule where we can get some guys back off the injured list, and go into the second half of the season."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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