Clippers 92, Celtics 90

Buzzer-beater dumps Celtics

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 28, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - Eventually, Rajon Rondo would be tested with pressure free throws. We learned early this morning (Boston time) that Rondo still needs work. Luckily, this occurred in December, not April.

With a chance to possibly win a difficult game against a motivated Los Angeles Clippers team, Rondo missed two free throws with 1.5 seconds left, then watched helplessly as Baron Davis drained a 22-foot fallaway shot at the buzzer, handing the Celtics a 92-90 defeat in front of 19,060 at Staples Center.

The Celtics led, 90-86, after Tony Allen’s layup with 2:07 left, but didn’t score again. Davis made a free throw with 1:45 left, and after two Celtics’ possessions netted two missed shots, Rasual Butler tied the game with a 3-point er with 8.5 seconds left.

Rondo had a masterful night in his matchup with Davis, especially offensively. After Butler’s 3-pointer, Rondo worked the clock down and darted to the basket, only to be hacked on the right arm by Davis.

Officials determined Rondo was fouled with 1.5 seconds left, and his new free-throw motion was about to be put to the test. The first one hit the back iron, and the second rolled off the center of the rim.

DeAndre Jordan grabbed the rebound and called timeout, setting up Davis’s heroics and the final statement in an intense battle with Rondo.

“The free throws again, guys, obviously I would have loved for him to make it, but that’s not why we lost,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “The free throws had nothing to do with that game. It was our composure and our execution and our focus.’’

The composure Rivers was referring to was a technical foul by Eddie House with 4:35 left that allowed the Clippers to cut the lead to 86-82. Also, after getting scorched most of the night by Chris Kaman, Kendrick Perkins got into a heated exchange with Kevin Garnett with 1:41 left about how to defend Kaman.

“It really wasn’t a disagreement,’’ Rivers said. “I think Kevin was yelling at him to get his focus. I don’t think they were arguing. It was more Kevin yelling at Perk to get focused.’’

Boston had several chances to put the game away with a stretch of solid defense, but its 10-point lead melted twice in the third quarter. The Celtics started the second half with a 12-4 run to extend the lead to 60-50 as Garnett scored consecutive buckets and Rondo got Perkins involved with a nice pass for an easy layup.

The Clippers cut the lead to 65-59, then again to 71-69 behind Kaman’s 5 straight points to end the third quarter.

Boston was 1 for 12 from behind the arc, the lone make from Ray Allen in the first quarter.

The Celtics got a nice contribution in the second quarter from Glen Davis, who played four minutes Friday in his season debut. Davis came off the bench in the second quarter and scored 5 points with five rebounds in seven minutes. His 4 straight points gave Boston a 36-28 lead with 7:30 left in the half.

With Garnett off to a slow start - 2 for 7 in the first half - Davis’s production was much needed. But the Celtics lost focus after a Ray Allen layup extended the lead to 38-30 with 6:39 left. Boston went cold for the next three minutes, going without a point as the Clippers went on a 12-0 run.

Baron Davis, usually a matchup problem for Rondo because of his lower-body strength, scored 6 points during the run and the Celtics found themselves in deep foul trouble. Three starters had two fouls in the first half and Brian Scalabrine amassed two trying to check Clippers guard Eric Gordon.

Garnett responded, scoring 6 straight points, and Ray Allen added two baskets in the final 1:43 as the Celtics retook the lead, 48-46.

One thing was certain in the early going: Perkins would have trouble with Kaman, who was determined to make an impression with his mid-range game. Kaman nearly had a double-double in the first half (10 points, nine rebounds) and frustrated Perkins with his array of post moves.

The first-half help of Rasheed Wallace (8 points) was pivotal, but he didn’t score in the second half, missing all six shot attempts.

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