Celtics 90, Clippers 77

Efficient win for Celtics

Garnett productive in his 18 minutes

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / March 24, 2009
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The Celtics have spent much of the season crafting strategies to clinch victories early in order to rest their starters. That R&R plan worked out well last night in a 90-77 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at TD Banknorth Garden.

Kevin Garnett played 18 minutes, his first-quarter presence helping lift the Celtics to a 31-18 lead and his third-quarter play launching them on a clinching 18-2 run.

The Celtics seemed to be clicking on most cylinders in Garnett's third game back after missing a month of play because of a right knee strain. And that allowed both Garnett and Paul Pierce to rest and relax on the bench. Pierce departed after a 31-minute performance, his 9-point output the third successive game in which he has scored in single digits.

But, in winning their third successive game, the Celtics (54-18) did not need Pierce to assert himself offensively.

Garnett exceeded his ostensible minutes limit and seemed to be getting into the flow of things. He seemed resigned to taking most of the night off, but his competitive spirit will be given a more severe test when the Celtics visit Orlando tomorrow, with second place in the Eastern Conference on the line.

"I don't want to move too fast," coach Doc Rivers said. "I felt the back-to-backs [at San Antonio and Memphis], he was a little sore."

Rivers plans to play Garnett 7 minutes in each half against the Magic.

Garnett made the most of his time last night. He scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting and is 15 for 17 from the field after missing his first four shots in the first half Friday against the Spurs.

Garnett departed in the opening quarter after forcing a shot-clock violation, celebrating the moment with a series of head-butts to the ball, the Celtics holding a 10-point lead. Glen Davis's hook shot increased the lead to 26-14 and a Pierce free throw with 19 seconds to play gave the Celtics a 13-point first-quarter edge.

But that would be Davis's only field of the game, the Celtics floundering in the second quarter, despite an inspiring flop to the floor by Davis to recover a loose ball, leading to a Bill Walker jumper and a 36-28 lead 4:51 in.

The Celtics were outscored, 24-13, in the second quarter, concluding the half with a 2-point lead as Ray Allen (20 points) hit a 3-pointer and Davis two foul shots in the final minute.

"Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is the second unit sees a big lead and they see the first unit scoring at ease," Rivers said. "So they're walking on the floor and all they're thinking about is how many ways they can score, instead of thinking that the reason the first unit scored is because they were getting stops and running and sprinting down the floor. And that's how we were scoring. So that's what we talked about at halftime."

Rivers pushed the right buttons, the Celtics taking command at the start of the second half with an 18-2 run over a 4:45 span and grabbing a 70-57 lead on Rajon Rondo's drive with 58 seconds left in the quarter.

The Clippers made one final run, cutting the deficit to 5 points less than a minute into the final quarter.

The Celtics then wrapped things up, a 13-point run featuring a Stephon Marbury 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, an Allen 3-point play off a left-hand drive, and an Eddie House 3-pointer off a Davis overplay steal and behind-the-back dribble.

"For the most part, it felt like, defensively, we're back to where we want to be a little bit," Garnett said. "We've got a little ways to go, I feel.

"But we [held them to 77] points and that's the focus, to continue to be dominant on defense.

"We're not perfect but you know with the new guys we're trying to get a rhythm with them and form a harmony with them and we will - we will."

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