Celtics 99, Blazers 95

Celtics find their range vs. Blazers

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 2, 2010

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It doesn’t happen every day. It’s hard to recall a time when Paul Pierce and Ray Allen airballed in the same game, let alone the same quarter.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen it,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But it happens.’’

It happened in last night’s 99-95 win as the Celtics were trying to deal the finishing blow to the Portland Trail Blazers after losing most of a 16-point lead.

“There were a bunch of shots that would have been last shots if they had gone down,’’ Allen said.

Allen wasn’t having the most effective shooting night to begin with, and whiffing from 25 feet midway through the fourth quarter with the Celtics ahead, 89-80, didn’t help the cause.

With a little more than a minute left and Boston ahead, 96-93, Pierce had the ball at the top of the arc with a chance to seal the game. He hoisted one up from 3-point range — all air.

“It was mind-boggling,’’ Pierce said. “I thought the rim moved. I’m not sure what happened on that one.’’

The next possession, Brandon Roy, who had at that point put 37 minutes on legs that he’s admitted can’t quite handle such a load, came down the other end, pulled up in the lane, and drained a 7-footer to close it to 96-95.

The Celtics needed one of their shooters to hit the mark. The Blazers had been in a zone most of the night and Rivers drew up a play he hoped would exploit it.

“We assumed they were going to go zone and they did,’’ Rivers said. “We didn’t know who would be open, we just thought one guy had to be.’’

Pierce had the ball at the top of the key, isolated with Wes Matthews, who wasn’t letting him drive. He saw Andrew Miller drifting off of Allen in the corner. Allen knew the pass was coming.

Pierce swung it to Allen in the corner, and Allen splashed in a 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left, sealing the Boston victory.

Allen finished with just 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting, but he was more than ready to nail the biggest shot of the night at the end.

“That’s why they’re different than all of us,’’ Rivers said. “I’m sure if you’ve shot an airball, you probably wouldn’t take another shot. Ray was looking for the next one, and that’s the difference.’’

“You guys have seen Ray through the years,’’ Pierce said. “He is one of the great shooters of all-time. For me as a scorer like Ray, you always feel that next one is going to go in.

“It’s something about clutch players. It’s just something that runs through your veins. When a game is on the line, you tend to forget about what happened in the rest of the game, you focus on that last play, on that last shot.’’

After a quiet night in Tuesday’s win in Cleveland, Pierce went off last night for a game-high 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting, nailing 4 of 5 3-pointers, the airball the only miss.

“I thought I did a good job mixing it up,’’ Pierce said. “Going inside. Getting a rhythm. Going outside, taking the shots that were there. I felt like I had fresh legs tonight because I was in foul trouble last night. I just wanted to come out and be aggressive from the jump and just play in the flow.’’

Rajon Rondo went for 10 points and 10 assists, reaching double-digit dimes for the third straight game. Kevin Garnett finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.

The Blazers charged out of the gate, going ahead by double digits in the first quarter with Matthews knocking down his first four shots, including three 3-pointers, and scoring 11 of his 23 points in the first quarter.

The Celtics dug a hole for themselves with turnovers, committing 10 of their 17 giveaways in the first half, undermining their hot shooting (60.7 percent in the first half).

“We won the game,’’ Rivers said. “And we’ll always take the win. But there’s a concern. I don’t know if that’s ever happened where you’re shooting 61 percent at halftime and you’re down 1 [49-48]. And we shot 57 percent for the game and almost threw it away. But we’ll take the win.’’

The Blazers, known for playing at one of the slowest paces in the league, lulled the Celtics to sleep early.

Eventually, though, the Celtics dug in on defense, preying on Portland’s iffy second unit. The Blazers clanged 10 of their 16 third-quarter shots as the Celtics started turning the tide. Glen Davis (16 points, seven rebounds) helped spark a third-quarter Celtic run by going on an 8-0 personal run in the middle of the quarter.

Using the ball like a hypnotist uses a pocket watch, Garnett closed the period by faking and jabbing at LaMarcus Aldridge to get off a 20-footer that made it 79-72. They got the lead to 16, but couldn’t keep the Blazers from rushing back. Even though Allen’s hand heated up, Pierce said, they know they can’t always count on that.

“We didn’t go through the finish line,’’ Pierce said. “We didn’t finish them off like we had the chance; up [16] we could have put it up to 20. I just thought we tried to let the time run out, but I’m glad we ended up on the winning side of it.’’

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