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Celtics 105, Warriors 103

Celtics hold off Warriors, now await trade deadline

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 15, 2012
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OAKLAND, Calif. - Kevin Garnett is not sure how many nights he has left like these. When the other two of the Big Three were noticeably off and erratic, Garnett saved the Celtics from a rather embarrassing loss with some vintage offense.

His 20-footer from near the 3-point line with 5.1 second left dropped effortlessly through the basket, and he followed by grabbing the key rebound on Nate Robinson’s rushed 3-point attempt to secure a 105-103 win over the Golden State Warriors Wednesday at Oracle Arena.

The Celtics blew a 103-97 lead with poor defense on Robinson, the former Celtic who played as if he had something to prove. His two uncontested layups tied the score at 103 with 30 seconds left before Garnett’s silky jumper.

Garnett finished with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the team’s last game before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics looked as if they were going to cruise after taking an 8-point lead and then turned into that sloppy team that had wasted several fourth-quarter leads.

"It was a very simple play," Garnett said. "Paul had the one-on-one, they came to me, I hit it. I call that the Madison Square Garden. "I play off Paul and Ray (Allen) and (Rajon) Rondo. Whatever Doc needs me to be, I try to be. Scoring is not my first priority here. Getting these guys open and making them better is."

Against a team that had played the night before in Sacramento, the Celtics looked as if they were more exhausted. After Garnett’s conventional 3-point play for an 89-81 lead with 10:15 left, the Celtics went turnover crazy, almost committing as many turnovers (seven) as they had field goals (eight) as Golden State rallied late.

Brandon Bass scored on two free throws and then a dunk on a sweet pass from Rajon Rondo for a 103-97 lead with 1:58 left. After Golden State’s David Lee hit two free throws, Rondo tried another bounce pass to Bass that was knocked away and stolen.

The Celtics then watched as Robinson drove unimpeded to the basket for an easy layup, reducing the lead to 103-101 with a minute left. Robinson, who was out of the NBA for a few weeks after being bought out by Oklahoma City, finished with 20 points, 11 assists, and 5 rebounds.

It’s funny how dominant the Celtics can be when the emphasize defense. And after allowing a 35-point second quarter, they applied a vice-grip on Klay Thompson and the Golden State’s perimeter shooters. They held the Warriors to 7-for-18 shooting (38.8) percent and just 17 points as the Celtics raced ahead with a 10-4 run for a 76-74 lead.

Mickael Pietrus followed with his fifth 3-pointer of the game and Greg Stiemsma capped a sparkling performance by dunking in a Paul Pierce miss with 2.7 left in the period and an 81-77 lead.

Pietrus canned five 3-pointers -- his most as a Celtic -- while Stiemsma finished with 8 points and eight rebounds in 16 minutes.

The Celtics actually led, 40-33, after a Pierce layup with 7:32 left in the second period as the defense finally began bottling up the Warriors’ perimeter game. But that momentum lasted just a few minutes as Golden State responded with three consecutive 3-pointers, two from Dorell Wright, including the final one with Pierce in his jersey.

The teams proceeded to exchange baskets for the remainder of the half, and it was apparent the Celtics couldn’t stop Thompson or Lee. Thompson scored a game-high 17 points in the first half on 6-for-9 shooting and Wright added 15 on 5 of 7 from the field.

Despite a height disadvantage, the Warriors still pounded the Celtics on the boards (23-14), getting 14 combined from Wright and Thompson. The Celtics played a passive first half in the paint with Kevin Garnett looking lethargic in his 14 first-half minutes, scoring 6 points with just three rebounds.

The victory was the Celtics’ seventh in nine games since the All-Star Break and they pulled to within one-half game of the Atlanta Hawks for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

"Everybody knows it’s time," Bass said about the team’s recent surge. “We can’t play like we played early on in the season. We want to improve at a faster pace, and that’s what you’ve been seeing."

Pietrus saved the Celtics in the first half with a barrage of 3-pointers off the bench. He sank 4 of 5 in 16 minutes, his most in a game since Jan. 18 against Toronto. Still, the Celtics trailed, 60-55, because they couldn’t stop the Warriors. Golden State shot 56.1 percent in the first half and scored 35 points in the second quarter.

The Warriors were playing off the momentum from Tuesday’s resounding road win over the Sacramento Kings and some extra motivation from Robinson, who got the start with Stephen Curry injured. With his fiery style and explosiveness, Robinson scored 6 first-quarter points as Golden State led by as many as 9 on three occasions.

Thompson, considered the team’s future shooting guard, scored 8 points in the first period on 4-for-7 shooting and Wright added 7. Without Curry, Monta Ellis, and Ekpe Udoh, the shorthanded Warriors relied on a painfully small lineup that launched plenty of 3-pointers.

But still, that lineup outrebounded the Celtics, 12-8, in the first quarter, a testament to the Celtics’ anemic rebounding habits. They managed to make a run to end the first period after trailing, 21-12, scoring 9 of the final 13 points of the period, including the final bucket on a layup.

Both teams were dealing with roster issues as the Warriors made the biggest trade of the season so far, acquiring Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson for Ellis, Udoh, and Kwame Brown. Bogut might not return this season because of an ankle injury, while Jackson had not reported to the team.

Meanwhile, the Celtics learned Wednesday that forward Chris Wilcox would miss the season after an exam discovered an enlarged aorta. Without Wilcox, Stiemsma had to play major minutes in relief of Garnett.

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

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