Celtics survive in OT
Once again, late heroics are needed to secure win
The Celtics found a way to improve their winning streak to five games Tuesday night, despite being decisively outrebounded and nearly self-destructing down the stretch against the Houston Rockets.
Paul Pierce (30 points) and Ray Allen (21) compensated for several Celtic miscues by converting when it counted in a 97-92 overtime victory at TD Garden.
“I mean, it was a no-energy game,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I even said at halftime, ‘Even the building had no energy.’ It was just one of those nights.’’
The Celtics have experienced several similar nights this season. But, unlike in earlier games, lately they have been resourceful enough to overcome their own failings and have moved within a game of Wednesday’s opponent, Atlantic Division leader Philadelphia.
The streak started as the Celtics struggled to an 86-83 victory in Cleveland in their first contest following the All-Star break. In that game, the team overcame a rare scoreless output by Rajon Rondo. Then, Rondo sparked the Celtics with three consecutive big-number productions, before experiencing another off night against the Rockets.
Rondo had 9 points and 12 assists, but he nearly cost the Celtics the victory by missing a breakaway layup late in regulation.
“We miss a layup,’’ Rivers said of the play. “Really bobbled the ball. I don’t even know if he ever really . . . it counts as an attempt, but he just lost sight of the ball.’’
The Celtics had taken an 84-82 lead on Allen’s 3-pointer from in front of the Rockets’ bench with 35.4 seconds left. The Celtics gave a foul, Rondo grabbing Kyle Lowry, leaving 17 seconds on the shot clock.
Luis Scola missed and Pierce rebounded, lofting a long pass to Rondo.
Instead of winding down the clock, Rondo went to the basket, missing badly. That left the Rockets’ Goran Dragic with an open jumper in front of the Celtics’ bench, and he converted to tie the score at 84 with three seconds left.
The Celtics were in a similar position near the end of OT.
Kevin Garnett missed two free throws, but the Rockets failed on two possessions, Lowry missing out of a timeout and losing possession on a drive out of another timeout following a Celtic eight-second violation. Pierce grabbed the ball on the baseline and again went to Rondo with a long pass.
This time, Rondo dribbled away from the basket, then found Allen with a cross-court pass. Allen drew a foul and hitting both free throws with 18 seconds left.
“I just tried to make the heads-up play,’’ Pierce said. “I just happened to look up and saw Rondo, going for the long pass again. Every time, I tell him, a hundred out of a hundred times, if he’s going to the basket wide open I’m going to give it to him.’’
The Celtics led by 10 points in the second half. But they went on field goal droughts of 7:28 and 5:10 in falling behind by 10.
Samuel Dalembert’s foul shots gave the Rockets an 80-70 lead with 5:33 left.
But the Celtics went on a 14-2 run and were on the verge of clinching the result after Allen’s 3-pointer.
The Celtics were outrebounded, 57-38, but Garnett had a key grab off a Houston miss, eventually hitting two free throws to cut the deficit to 82-81 with 55.9 seconds left in regulation.
Allen, who missed a jumper at the buzzer in regulation, gave the Celtics the lead in OT with a reverse layup off a broken play with one second on the shot clock. Garnett’s jumper followed a Dragic field goal. And, unlike during regulation time, the Celtics then protected the advantage.
Pierce’s 3-point play produced a 91-86 lead with 3:21 to go. Allen stole the ball from Dragic but Brandon Bass missed a jumper after an officials’ timeout. Lowry cut Houston’s deficit to 1 with two foul shots and a layup off an Allen turnover with 2:04 to go.
Pierce hit two foul shots, Lowry made a nice reverse layup, and then Pierce scored on a drive for a 95-92 Celtic lead.
The Celtics forced a traveling violation, Bass feeding Garnett for a dunk attempt which resulted in Dalembert fouling out with 47.5 on the clock. Garnett missed both free throws, but it didn’t end up affecting the result.
“That was a crazy game,’’ Rivers said. “The whole game, it wasn’t even just the ending. I mean, there [were] just some strange things going on tonight. It was just one of those games.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.