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Pierce had the will to win

Forward asserts aggressiveness

Paul Pierce, beating Luis Scola to a rebound, took control in OT, with 7 of his 30 points. Paul Pierce, beating Luis Scola to a rebound, took control in OT, with 7 of his 30 points. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / March 7, 2012
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It might have had the potential to knock him off his game, out of the scoring rhythm he found himself in in overtime of the Celtics’ 97-92 victory over the Houston Rockets Tuesday night at TD Garden.

But Paul Pierce could not be derailed even when he lost his trademark white headband going hard to the rim with about a minute and a half left, getting no call from the officials even though his lost headgear served as Exhibit A of a felonious act by a Houston defender.

“It was a battle of wills, you know?’’ said Pierce, who scored a game-high 30 points on 9-for-21 shooting to help the Celtics extend their winning streak to five consecutive games. The Celtics are now a game behind the Philadelphia 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.

“It was kind of like a see-saw battle,’’ Pierce said. “We’d make a run, they’d make a run, we’d make a run. Nobody could really just put the other team away.’’

Until, that is, when this topsy-turvy game went into OT.

That’s when Pierce willed himself to carry the team any way he could, scoring 7 of Boston’s 13 points, hitting both of his field goals and all three of his foul shots to go along with a huge defensive rebound and one steal.

“Coming out the second half of the season, I just want to be more aggressive,’’ Pierce said. “I know there’s time where I’m too passive, but this team needs me to be aggressive night in and night out, so that’s what I try to do.’’

“When the team goes through scoring droughts,’’ he added, “the team needs me to create that spark on the offensive end and that’s pretty much my role on the team.’’

After Ray Allen (21 points) hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics an 84-82 lead with 35.9 seconds to go, Rajon Rondo had a chance to seal the win but lost the handle driving for an open layup. Goran Dragic answered with a smooth baseline jumper from the corner in front of the Celtics bench to tie it, 84-84, with three seconds left. Allen missed a pull-up jumper on the other end to send it into OT.

Allen atoned when he got the OT scoring started with pretty reverse up-and-under. But after Dragic answered again with a tying basket, Kevin Garnett hit a perimeter shot to give the Celtics an 88-86 lead. That’s when Pierce went to work, driving the lane for a 3-point play that induced Kyle Lowry to commit his fifth personal, enabling Pierce to make the hoop and the harm for a 91-86 lead. When the Rockets closed within 91-90, Pierce went to the line (courtesy of Dragic’s fourth personal) and made both foul shots to give the Celtics breathing room, 93-90, with 1:48 to go.

“We understand the urgency, especially at this point of the season after the All-Star break,’’ Pierce said. “Right now, it’s that stretch run and we understand it. We understand that we need to take care of home, we understand that we have a big road trip coming up that’s not going to be easy, so we can’t just give away games right now.’’

Headbands? Now that was another matter, entirely.

After Pierce scored his 6th and 7th points in OT to make it 95-90 with 1:16 to go, he came back on an ensuing possession and lost his headgear, but not his head. When Garnett went to the line and missed a pair of foul shots with 47.5 seconds to go, Pierce scanned the front row, where a fan offered to return his prized headpiece.

“At that point, I just said, ‘You can have it,’ ’’ Pierce said. “Hey, when Superman loses his cape, there’s nothing you can do.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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