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Celtics 105, Spurs 103

Stop sign ignored

Allen, Celtics race past shoddy defense of Spurs

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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It was one of those can’t-miss nights for Ray Allen. He was 13 of 16 from the floor, and when he sprung free for a 3-pointer from in front of the Spurs’ bench with 1:37 remaining last night, he seemed to all but bury the team with the best record in the NBA.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat amazed — if also aggravated — by Allen’s accuracy.

“If it was practice and you did pindowns and you came off that, I don’t know if anyone in the league would hit 13 of 16,’’ Popovich said.

So when Allen wound up at the free throw line with 8.1 seconds left and the Celtics nursing a 105-103 lead, the game was essentially in a Brink’s truck. He with the picture-perfect shooting form let the first one go.

Clang.

“I don’t know how I missed it,’’ Allen said. “It was where it needed to be, and felt the way I always feel, only I missed it.’’

Still, if he made the back end the Celtics would be up by 3, and at the worst the Spurs could tie it and send it to over time. Same shot, same form.

Clang.

Two straight misses from the stripe, and each time the TD Garden crowd sounded as if it had taken a collective punch in the gut. Allen was equally dazed.

“Those are the ones that are always perplexing to me,’’ he said.

Doc Rivers immediately flashed back to the first season of the Big Three era. The Celtics were in Cleveland, the game was tied at 92 with 23 seconds left, and Allen was at the line. He missed them both.

“I think that was the only time that’s happened,’’ Rivers said.

The only difference was the Cavaliers went on to win that game in overtime. Last night, the Celtics held on for a 105-103 win.

Even without the free throws, Allen’s 31 points represented a game high, and he found a handful of ways to do it, coming off picks, getting to the hoop, and knocking down a pair of threes.

“I was just trying to find my spots,’’ Allen said. “I was trying not to predetermine where I was going to shoot it and how I was going to shoot it.’’

It was an unlikely shootout. The Celtics came in with the league’s best field goal percentage defense. Despite a lapse in New York Tuesday night, the Spurs had answered Popovich’s challenge this season to be better than “mediocre’’ defensively.

But last night, they were racing each other to 100.

Rajon Rondo was running around the floor picking up assists like Easter eggs (he wound up with his second triple-double of the season, 12 points, 10 rebounds, 22 assists). The Spurs had six players in double figures, the Celtics four. The Celtics finished the night shooting 61.3 percent.

“Two great defensive teams tonight, huh?’’ Rivers said, sarcastically. “The fact that we shot 61 percent and won by 2 is a scary number when you think about it. That tells you how good they are, how well they’re coached. It took a 61 percent effort from us tonight to win a basketball game at home.’’

The Celtics were the first to dig in on defense, holding the Spurs to 9-of-23 shooting in the third quarter, but they couldn’t pull away until late, and even when they did, the Spurs made one last burst.

Allen drove the lane to put the Celtics up, 105-96, giving them their largest lead. But Manu Ginobili drained a 3-pointer from 25 feet, the first of 7 straight points for the Spurs.

“The game is never over when that freakin’ Ginobili’s on the floor,’’ Rivers said.

After Allen missed the two free throws, the Spurs put the ball in Ginobili’s hands, but with Paul Pierce draped over him, he couldn’t get a clean look. Pierce swatted the shot to seal the win.

“We knew it was going to be a nip-tuck game pretty much all night,’’ said Pierce, who got his 18 points efficiently (7 of 10), despite the Spurs trying to take him out of the offense. “You look up and it’s hard to look away from them until the stretch when we put together a nice little defensive run. Then we do that and they come right back. So, you’ve got two heavyweights battling.’’

With his team in the midst of one of its toughest weeks of the season (five games in seven days), Rivers gave the Celtics today off. But Allen likely will be in the gym.

“I will shoot 100 free throws at some point,’’ he said.

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