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Celtics 94, Clippers 85

Celtics bounce back

Pierce, Rondo spark win over Clippers

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 13, 2012
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LOS ANGELES — Two teams that hardly could be described as rivals went at each other’s throats all Monday night at Staples Center, and the Celtics easily could have rolled over and claimed fatigue when the Clippers went on a furious fourth-quarter run for a 4-point lead late in the game.

Perhaps showing co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and team president Danny Ainge they are capable of making a long playoff run, the Celtics responded with one final haymaker — a 13-2 run that sealed a crucial 94-85 road victory in front of a sellout crowd.

Paul Pierce scored 10 of his 25 points in the final quarter, including a momentous 3-pointer for an 83-78 lead with 2:47 left. On Sunday against the Lakers, in the same building, Boston led by 5 points and went scoreless the final 2:41 in a loss.

Pierce erased those memories with a layup and Mickael Pietrus, struggling offensively all night, streaked for a fast-break layup for a 7-point lead. Things became potentially deflating when guard Ray Allen slipped on the floor and appeared to injure his right foot in the final two minutes.

But after heading to the locker room with trainer Ed Lacerte, he returned to the bench walking normally. Teammates finished the job by shutting down Los Angeles during the stretch as the Clippers finished with cq37.3 percent shooting, including 13 of 43 in the second half.

"I told our basketball team all our games are going to be tough," said coach Doc Rivers. "They’re all gonna be difficult. We’re gonna outsized every night. But until we get another big body we’re just gonna have to figure it out." And they did.

Five technical fouls were called in the first half as both teams spent time pushing, shoving, and talking.

"They started with the physical play tonight," said Pierce. "Once we were able to settle into the game, we were more physical and pushed back. We got into their space and made it uncomfortable for them. They are a high-flying transition team and play with a lot of finesse and we had to get out there and stop that."

Indeed, the Celtics won this game with defense, limiting the Clippers’ athleticism with strong work against the pick-and-roll.

After trailing by 9 cq at halftime, the Celtics’ rally began in the third quarter when they made a point of competing for rebounds and playing more intense defense. They ran off 15 of the first 17 points of the period, with Allen draining a 3-pointer for a 54-50 lead with 5:32 left.

The defense stopped those pick-and-rolls that allowed easy cuts to the basket for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Celtics turned the Clippers’ guards into dribblers and they slowed the game down by clogging the paint. The Clippers scored 6 points in the first 8:27 of the quarter, unable to push the ball because the Celtics were more competitive on the boards.

After being outrebounded, 18-4, in the second quarter, the Celtics were even with the Clippers at 11 in the third. And that made the difference in the first 10 minutes with the Celtics racing to a 62-54 lead after a Pierce free throw with 1:48 left.

But the Celtics have had trouble all season near the end of quarters, and the Clippers scored the final 7 points of the third, including 5 by Mo Williams, who assumed the scoring load on a subpar night from Chris Paul. Williams scored 21 points.

The Celtics learned from their poor start Sunday against the Lakers and scored the first 6 points Monday night, including a jumper by Kevin Garnett, who played 35 tough minutes against Lakers physical center Andrew Bynum.

Garnett, who logged 34 minutes Monday, was not the same player as Sunday. Although he scored 6 points in his first 11 minutes he did not record a rebound, and he allowed Reggie Evans to beat him to an offensive rebound in the second quarter without much resistance.

Two teams without much of a rivalry were chippy from the beginning. Brandon Bass and Griffin began talking from the opening tip, shoving each other under the basket and on screens, and after Griffin ran over Greg Stiemsma (with no foul call) and scored a layup, he handed the ball to Stiemsma, who threw the ball back at Griffin. Both received technicals.

Later in the second quarter, Garnett tried to dunk after an official’s whistle and Jordan stuck his hand near Garnett to strip the ball and they began jawing. Both were assessed technicals.

"[The Clippers] played out of their character a little bit, rough and tough or whatever," said Garnett. "We watched film on these guys and that was totally uncharacteristic of how they played. They are not known [as a tough] style type, they are more finesse and dunks and all that, but we knew what it was. We’ve been in these types of games countless times and we kept our composure for the most part. We turned the notch up, turned the engine up a little bit, and got stops when we needed to fourth quarter."

The Clippers at times were fueled by the physical play, going on an 18-6 run to end the half as the Celtics missed easy shots and had no answer for Williams defensively. With Paul a nonfactor in the first half, Williams came off the bench and scored 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. His conventional 3-point play completed a 12-0 run for a 42-33 Los Angeles lead with 2:28 left in the half.

The Celtics responded with a couple of baskets but once again botched a play at the end of a quarter and Pierce was left standing near the basket with a late pass, unable to get a shot off before the buzzer. Griffin and Williams combined for 29 points to give the Clippers a 48-39 lead.

It was a discouraging half considering the Celtics shot 50 percent and avoided silly turnovers. But the Clippers put so much pressure on the Celtics’ perimeter players with Griffin and Jordan that LA’s guards were able to score with little resistance.

The Clippers outrebounded the Celtics, 18-4, in the second quarter, another testament to Boston’s desperation for another big man. But somehow the Celtics got the job done.

The Rajon Rondo-Paul matchup turned out to be dud in the early going. Paul scored just 2 points in 16 first-half minutes and Rondo scored 6 points with four assists.

"We got stops," Rondo said. "Each night we hang our hat on defense. If we don’t get stops we looked like we played in Philly. We looked like last night when we couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, so when we do get stops we’re a pretty good team and we get easy transition buckets to make us look better.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn9@globe.com.

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