Celtics 98, Blazers 95

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With Garnett back, Celtics edge Blazers

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 23, 2010

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Coach Doc Rivers said battling a depleted Portland team down to the wire last night might have been a positive sign for the Celtics. And the TD Garden crowd agreed, celebrating the team’s 98-95 overtime win over the Trail Blazers with playoff enthusiasm.

In fact, there were some major Celtic positives. Kevin Garnett returned from a 10-game absence (hyperextended knee) to log 30 minutes and score 13 points. The Celtics broke a three-game losing streak and won at home for the first time since Jan. 2. And they got through overtime without Paul Pierce (24 points), who fouled out with 1.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Celtics struggled mightily in the second half against the Blazers, who were missing two starters, then lost Jerryd Bayless (sprained left ankle) a minute into the third quarter. Ray Allen was especially off target, but he recovered to convert the go-ahead 3-pointer in OT, then assisted on Tony Allen’s dunk, the final basket of the game.

“It wasn’t pretty,’’ Rivers said. “But in some ways, for us, the way we won may have been better for us.’’

As hoped for, the Garnett-inspired defense got the Celtics going early. And, though the Celtics faded after halftime (they were outscored, 41-36, in the second half), they led by as many as 8 points down the stretch. But the Celtics stumbled into overtime, failing to score in the final 2:36 of the fourth quarter.

In overtime, the Blazers took a 95-93 lead and had possession following a missed 3-pointer by Ray Allen. Andre Miller’s drive was off target and the Celtics stripped the rebound from Juwan Howard, setting the stage for Ray Allen’s go-ahead three with 41.3 seconds left. The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge missed out of a timeout and Howard again controlled the rebound, tipping it toward Miller. But the ball ended up with Ray Allen, who advanced it to Tony Allen alone under the basket with 12.5 seconds to go. The Blazers’ final chance ended with two missed 3-pointers by Rudy Fernandez.

“Ray’s a shooter and you’ve just got to keep shooting,’’ Rivers said. “Listen, he had one of those nights. But shooters shoot and, eventually, you just have to think [about] the odds - every miss meant the odds were on our side more.’’

The Celtics’ method of victory could not have been more dramatic. They were 4-6 without Garnett and had won only four of 12 games since Dec. 25. Late-game collapses had characterized the losses, and the Celtics were following that pattern again last night.

Ray Allen missed two technical foul shots and both he and Pierce airballed 3-point attempts. Nobody seemed able to contain Miller (28 points) or Martell Webster (19 points).

The Celtics led, 89-81, after Rajon Rondo put back a Garnett miss with 4:44 remaining in regulation. Miller pulled the Blazers within 3, his 3-point play capping a possession in which both Garnett and Pierce committed their fifth foul. Rondo got a layup off a Webster miss, but Webster’s three at the shot-clock buzzer made it 91-89 with 1:45 remaining.

The Celtics had several chances to clinch the win, but could not finish. Rondo’s layup rolled out and Webster tied the score out of a timeout, giving the Celtics possession with 34 seconds remaining. Pierce missed a jumper but Rondo chased down the rebound and the Celtics called a 20-second timeout with 13.5 seconds left. Pierce drove and collided with Miller, and was whistled for a charge - his sixth foul. Aldridge had a chance to win it when he grabbed Miller’s lob pass, but Kendrick Perkins stifled his shot attempt.

Then, in overtime, Ray Allen found the target. And Tony Allen figured out how to knock Miller off his game.

“It was a good victory for us, in the fact that we couldn’t ask for better shots,’’ Rivers said. “We missed layups, free throws. I think we had a three-layup-in-a-row stretch we missed. We missed wide-open shots. But our defense hung in there. And what we’ve been talking about the last two or three days is that, at some point, we’ve got to turn back into that defensive team that doesn’t rely on great offense.’’

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