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Celtics hold off Knicks' comeback

Dec 12, 2006 - 3:20 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Eddy Curry kept his streak alive but it wasn't enough to resuscitate his team.

Paul Pierce scored 31 points and the Boston Celtics held off a furious comeback bid by the New York Knicks en route to a 97-90 victory.

Curry scored 30 points - his 10th straight game with at least 20 - and grabbed 12 rebounds, but he was unable to dig the Knicks out of a 30-point third-quarter hole.

The turnaround from the abysmal first half to the stirring second-half rally left Knicks coach Isiah Thomas shaking his head.

"I'm baffled by it," Thomas said. "I thought we would come out in the first half, particularly the first five, six minutes of the game. I don't think I've been more disappointed in a loss than this one with what's at stake.

"It's not like this is going to be the end of the season for us. But I thought on a night like this, with as much as we had going for us, I thought we definitely would come out and give a much better basketball showing than we did in the first half."

After building a 25-point halftime lead, the Celtics widened the margin their biggest advantage of the game, 68-38, on Al Jefferson's layup with 10:44 to go in the third quarter.

Seemingly done, the Knicks used a 29-14 closing run to get within 82-67 after three quarters and they kept charging in the fourth.

"I thought we let our guard down a little defensively," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought that's where the game changed, more than offense. The reason we scored so much in the first half is we were getting stops and we were able the run.

"The second half, they scored almost every time down the floor and I thought we didn't have the same intensity, the same awareness that we had in the first half."

New York nearly came all the way back and got within 93-90 on a free throw by Curry with 1:28 to play. Curry scored 18 points in the second half and has 66 in his last two games.

The Knicks had two chances to tie, but Stephon Marbury threw away a pass on the Knicks' ensuing possession. Moments later on their last gasp, Jamal Crawford missed a floater in the lane and Curry's tip rimmed off.

Pierce grabbed the rebound with 17 seconds to play, was fouled and made two free throws to finally seal the victory.

"I think it's more satisfying when you're able to hold them off," Pierce said. "You're on the road, team is making a run and the crowd is against you. But you still have enough in you to hold them off to get the win."

The Knicks had pulled within 88-83, but Pierce buried a big 3-pointer - his first points of the final quarter - with 2:15 remaining to push the lead to 93-84 with 2:15 to play.

"The biggest shot of the game was the three and that was nothing we ran," Rivers said. "We were running an invert for Paul and he (called) it off because he saw an opening. ... So that was just a great read by a great player."

Quentin Richardson, who scored five straight points to slice the deficit to 93-89 with 2:00 left, said New York never should have been in such a position.

"It was another bad home game," Richardson said. "We had a horrible first half. They got up big. They scored 61 points in the first half. That is unacceptable. Whatever it is, we have to correct it."

A dreadful first half and miserable free-throw shooting doomed the Knicks.

Pierce scored 19 points and the Celtics shot 60 percent (24-of-40) from the field in rolling to a 61-36 halftime advantage.

"We showed we can back from 20 or 25 points in the second half," Crawford said. "We shouldn't be in that position. It's frustrating. To do that you almost have to play perfect basketball."

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