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Celtics 102, Grizzlies 92

Powe, Celtics bear down

Grizzlies scratch and claw, but run out of fight

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / March 14, 2009
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Of all the medicines, rest, and therapy prescribed for the Celtics' ills, there have been few better methods for healing than facing opponents such as the Memphis Grizzlies.

After being bumped and bruised by some of the NBA's best in recent weeks, the Celtics got a breather and capitalized on the situation in taking a 102-92 victory over the Grizzlies last night.

The Celtics (50-16) snapped a two-game losing streak as Leon Powe produced his third double-double in a week with a career-high 30 points to go with 11 rebounds. Rajon Rondo, back from a right ankle sprain, was a surprise starter and needed a half to regain his form.

By the third quarter, though, the Celtics were getting back to their home-court groove - since Jan. 28, they have a 4-4 record at TD Banknorth Garden and two wins by double-digit margins.

"Our floor general is out there, making the calls, understanding what we're trying to do, and everybody's comfortable," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said of Rondo.

Rondo, who missed losses to Orlando and Miami, returned to the lineup after a productive morning workout in Waltham. He helped spark a decisive 21-9 run over a 5:16 span late in the third quarter, giving the Celtics momentum and a cushion sufficient enough for Pierce and Ray Allen (22 points) to limit their minutes in preparation for tomorrow's visit to Milwaukee.

The game also served as a further prep course for Stephon Marbury, who converted his first 3-pointer as a Celtic, and Mikki Moore (6 points), plus Bill Walker, who played significant minutes (18 last night) for the second successive game.

"Other than the first quarter, I thought we played pretty good basketball," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought our defense after the first quarter was pretty good. I thought our bench was terrific. They got us the lead in the first half, then were able to finish the game. [Walker] played terrific defense and he just makes things happen."

But Rondo's return made the most noticeable difference for the Celtics.

After O.J. Mayo's 3-pointer gave Memphis (16-48) a 57-55 lead with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter, the Celtics scored the next 8 points. Pierce scored on a goaltending call, then Rondo poked away Mike Conley's dribble and found Powe with a behind-the-back pass for a dunk, Allen converted on a drive, and Rondo's drive provided a 63-57 lead with 4:47 left. Allen scored again in the lane, then converted two threes, and Pierce one, before Moore's follow dunk made the score 76-66 with 25 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Moore converted twice from the perimeter, one off a Marbury behind-the-backer, as the Celtic reserves preserved the lead. Marbury's first Celtic 3-pointer stretched it to 95-78 with 4:31 left.

By then, Allen and Pierce were comfortably lounging on the bench and Tony Allen (thumb), Kevin Garnett (right knee), and Brian Scalabrine (concussion) were presumably resting easy in the locker room.

"I just want [Allen and Pierce] to keep in that 35-38[-minute] range," Rivers said. "There will be games, if we do our jobs, where they can get rest. We're going to try to win games, and what we don't want to do is get them in that 45[-minute range]. I'm sure there will be a game or two that you do it just because it's one of those games."

Nor do the Celtics expect many more coasting sessions such as this one. The Celtics already have equaled last season's loss total, and the remaining 16 games will be a race with first-place Cleveland and third-place Orlando for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"It doesn't look good this year," Rivers said of being able to rest players. "Last year, we were able to because we had such a big cushion. This year, we don't. We're trying to catch Cleveland and trying to stay in front of Orlando. Every year is different.

"If I thought that we had a team that was getting tired, I'd shut them down. I don't see that, though. I think we've had a ton of offdays with practice and I think we've done that pretty well so far."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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