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Better than it looked

Ugly pretty much sums up Celtics' win

The word "ugly" was tossed around rather freely last night -- and with good reason. The 13,078 hostages, er, fans who sat through the Celtics' torpid, 84-83 victory over the Golden State Warriors had to have one thought in mind when they got home: Take a shower.

Doc Rivers called the game ugly. He was right. Two running teams combined for 10 fast-break points while shooting a combined 43.7 percent and committing 27 turnovers. "Winning ugly is, I guess, the theme," mused the Celtics' mentor.

Paul Pierce called the game ugly. Bingo. Pierce played 38 minutes, took 20 shots, and didn't make a single thing beyond 2 feet. His seven hoops were all layups. "It was an ugly game man, and we had to grind it out, you know. I don't worry about that [his shooting]. You suck it up and try to do other things," said Pierce, who also had eight rebounds and eight assists.

Derek Fisher could have used the word to describe the Warriors' free throw shooting (11 of 20) and their play in the final 16.9 seconds (two timeouts, one airball, no points). But he's a scholarly veteran who chooses his words wisely. Of his failure to get any kind of decent shot off in the closing five seconds, Fisher said, "We needed something better. I'll have to take responsibility for that." Of the free throws, he said, simply, "You have to shoot 75 percent or better on the road to win."

OK, there might be one household in America that will want a tape of the game: the Jefferson clan of Prentiss, Miss. The aptly nicknamed Big Al Jefferson, one day removed from his 20th birthday, recorded what may well be the first of many double-doubles with 10 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, and, for good measure, 2 blocked shots in 21 minutes.

"G.P. and Big Al, they're probably the only two guys on our team that played well. But we won," said Pierce, referring to Jefferson and the prodigal Gary Payton, who returned from a one-game injury hiatus (strained left hamstring) to collect 13 points and five assists in 33 minutes.

"I was just trying to get every rebound and there were still some I missed," said Jefferson, who was 5 for 7 from the field. "It felt good having the double-double, especially with the win."

But Big Al was watching from the bench when the Warriors had a chance to win the game. (Rivers said he thought his prize rookie looked "winded.") The visitors got the ball back with 16.9 seconds to play after Raef LaFrentz bricked a trey. It should be noted that the Warriors were without their leading scorer, Jason Richardson, who was out with an ankle sprain. His game is made for times like these.

The Warriors first called a timeout when they couldn't get the ball inbounds. They called another timeout with 5.3 seconds left after scrambling around for 11-plus seconds without getting off a shot. And then Fisher, who has a habit of making big shots (just ask Gregg Popovich) was swallowed up by Ricky Davis on the final shot, barely getting off a parabola, which came down well short.

An airball. A fitting way to end a dreadful game. "No Picassos," Rivers said. No kidding.

The Warriors pointed to their brutal free throw shooting as the key to the defeat. Lamented Mike Dunleavy, who made 3 of 4, "That's so easy to correct and that's why it's a frustrating loss. I don't think we practice enough free throws. Guys aren't getting enough, simple as that."

How better to sum this one up than this: The Celtics led by 8 entering the fourth quarter -- that was a cavernous advantage in this one -- and then spent the next 6:43 going 1 of 7 from the field while turning it over four times. And they never even got close to losing the lead. They led by 8 entering the fourth, scored 12 points, and still won the game. Rivers said he thought the first six minutes of the game and the last six minutes of the game "set the clock back." He's probably right. But if that's the case, the first six minutes of the fourth brought back the sundial.

After emerging from their collective coma, the Celtics led, 74-71. Pierce and Payton made enough layups to keep the Celtics afloat as Boston led, 81-75, with 3:04 to play, 83-77, with 2:23 to play, and, 84-79, with 90 seconds left. But Clifford Robinson then converted a pair of hoops surrounding a Pierce airball -- there's that word again -- and then LaFrentz couldn't drop a wide-open trey.

That gave Golden State one last chance. Thankfully for the Celtics, the Warriors were every bit as inept on their final possession. You really expected nothing less.

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