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Rockets 93, Celtics 77

With Celtics scuffling, Rockets are free to have their way

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 19, 2011

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HOUSTON — The frustration didn’t grow out of nowhere. It built slowly, one miss at a time.

Kevin Garnett got the turnarounds he wanted. The shots just wouldn’t fall. Ray Allen got the open looks. They bounced off the rim. Paul Pierce drove hard to the rim. He didn’t get the whistles.

The Celtics got seven point-blank looks at the basket in their 93-77 loss to the Rockets last night and missed them all.

“That’s uncharacteristic of us,’’ coach Doc Rivers said.

And the Celtics defense caved amid all the misses.

The Rockets made 11 of 22 shots in the first quarter, with Kyle Lowry knocking down a 26-footer that rang through the Toyota Center at the end of the quarter.

The Rockets hit 9 of 18 shots in the second quarter, with Lowry drilling another 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left before the half.

Rivers showed tape of the point-blank misses at halftime. By that point they were down 22.

Their composure was shot and their execution faded (13 turnovers) while the Rockets ran their offense to precision. And when the Celtics tried to bully their way back into the game, the Rockets tuned out the noise, dealing Boston its second-worst loss of the season.

“I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots,’’ Rivers said. “I thought we lost our composure. They got into doing whatever these guys do nowadays, the talking and the bark ing. But I thought [Houston] slowed down and played better and I thought we got so excited we started playing quicker and sloppy. That to me was a turning point.’’

The game got out of hand in the second quarter.

Garnett got into a dust-up with Chuck Hayes, trying to bully him the way he bullied Blake Griffin, Al Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva, and countless others.

He barked in Hayes’s face. Hayes barked back. They were assessed double technicals. But instead of falling apart, the Rockets ran over the Celtics.

Glen Davis got heated after being shoved into the baseline seats by Jordan Hill, coming up shouting at Hill and needing to be separated.

He earned a tech. The Celtics were coming apart at the seams, and they were facing a team that refused to unravel.

“You’re going to have nights where you get technicals,’’ said Pierce. “Stuff happens through the emotions of the game, but that’s still not an excuse. We’ve still got to play through those emotions.’’

Instead, the Rockets were able to cash in on the Celtics’ lack of composure, accepting numerous trips to the free throw line.

Houston took 12 free throws in the second quarter (Kevin Martin knocked down 8 of 10) and the Rockets busted the game wide open while the Celtics broke down.

“Before that I thought we were moving the ball, getting great shots, [but] they didn’t fall,’’ Rivers said. “After that, I thought whoever touched the ball was going to try to be the hero at that moment. ‘I’m going to get you. I’m going to go at you.’ That’s not how we play.’’

Martin scored a game-high 25 points and Lowry dropped in 20, knocking down his first four 3-point attempts.

“They just looked us in the eye and beat us off the dribble,’’ Rivers said, “Their guards destroyed us tonight.’’

Rajon Rondo’s struggles continued — 2-of-11 shooting, 4 points, 6 assists. Pierce (10 points) was 2 of 10 and appeared to sprain his right ankle early in the third quarter while following Chase Budinger off a screen.

“My ankle is fine,’’ he said.

The Celtics had a chance to reclaim the lead in the Eastern Conference after the Bulls lost in overtime in Indiana, but they couldn’t capitalize.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court, if we want to be on top of the East,’’ Pierce said. “We have to wake up inside and consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record at the beginning of the year.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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