your connection to The Boston Globe

Pierce, Celtics end 12-game road slide

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce (34) is fouled by Houston Rockets' Jake Tsakalidis, of Greece, in the first half of NBA basketball Monday, Feb. 26, 2007 in Houston. Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce (34) is fouled by Houston Rockets' Jake Tsakalidis, of Greece, in the first half of NBA basketball Monday, Feb. 26, 2007 in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

HOUSTON --Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers got two important things out of Monday's game against the Houston Rockets: a win and a teaching tool. Rivers was impressed with the maturity his young team showed in a 77-72 victory over the short-handed Rockets that broke a 12-game road losing streak.

Paul Pierce scored 28 points to help the Celtics rally from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to avoid matching the franchise mark for most consecutive road losses. The win, against a Rockets team playing without both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, is just their second in the past 24 games.

"We're going to put this one in the vault and show it to them," he said. "I didn't even know we'd lost that many. Every time we play a game like this it's important for the young guys so they can learn different ways you can win in this league."

Said Pierce: "We're just trying to play better basketball. We don't think about the streaks anymore."

Boston, which has the NBA's worst record, scored eight straight points to take a 70-68 lead on a layup by Delonte West with 1:23 remaining. West blocked a shot by Juwan Howard for the fast break that led to the go-ahead score.

A 3-pointer by Pierce with 25.9 seconds left pushed the lead to 73-68 and West made four free throws in the final seconds to assure the win.

"We needed to get a shot up. I just turned around, closed my eyes and threw it up," Pierce said of his 3.

Houston never trailed in the first three quarters and often led by double-digits before the Celtics comeback.

"I thought they got stronger in the fourth quarter and we got weaker, both mentally and physically," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We got beat in transition, got beat on the boards."

Bonzi Wells led the Rockets with a season-high 27 points, starting in place of McGrady, who was out with flu-like symptoms. Wells also had nine rebounds.

"We had the game," Wells said. "We were up 10 or 12 in the fourth quarter and we should have put them away. (But) we didn't have the will to put them away. We let them score six or seven straight points and we never really recovered."

It was an ugly game, filled with poor shooting, bad passes and traveling. At one point in the second half after a problem at the scoring table, Rivers looked at the scorers and said "You guys are as bad as this game."

Houston shot a season-low 32.1 percent and the Celtics weren't much better, shooting 34.2 percent. The Rockets also set a season-worst mark for 3-point shooting, making just 1 of 22 and scored their fewest points of the season.

"It was disappointing the way we played," Houston's Shane Battier said. "We played poorly. We still had a shot to win, but we didn't show enough heart and determination when the game really mattered to pull it out."

West and Al Jefferson added 16 points apiece for Boston and Jefferson had 17 rebounds.

"Tonight we stayed in it and kept fighting," Jefferson said. "It's just good to finally go home with our confidence up."

Boston cut the lead to five points twice in the third quarter, the second coming when Kendrick Perkins made a hook shot with 2:04 left. But the Rockets responded with five points to end the quarter ahead 53-44.

The Celtics didn't score in the second quarter until a 3-pointer by Pierce with about seven minutes left made it 27-17. About a minute later the Rockets had their own scoring drought, going almost five minutes between points and allowing Boston to go on a 10-2 run to close the gap to 35-29 at halftime.

Notes:@ The Rockets scored just 13 points in the second quarter to tie a season low. ... Wells made a career-high 11 free throws. ... Houston's previous low for 3s in a game this season was three at Memphis in November.