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Pierce tough down stretch as Celtics break road skid

Feb 27, 2007 - 6:18 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- After 36 minutes of miserable basketball, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics avoided another dubious record with a strong finish.

Pierce scored 28 points, including seven points down the stretch, as the Celtics avoided a 13th consecutive road loss with a 77-72 victory over the sickly Houston Rockets.

Delonte West scored 16 points and converted four free throws in the final seconds as the Celtics closed the contest on a 28-10 run.

Boston set its franchise record with 13 straight losses to close out the 1978-79 season - one season before Larry Bird arrived.

"I didn't even know (about the road streak)," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They were shorthanded, but we know how that feels. Every time we play a game like this, it's important for our young guys. You can win defensively. I haven't seen that type of shooting in a long time."

"We don't think about the streaks anymore," Pierce said. "We're just trying to play better basketball. We can use this as a barometer. Our offense shot 30 percent and we still won."

The Celtics, who snapped a franchise-record 18-game losing streak against Milwaukee just prior to the All-Star break, were hoping to capitalize on Tracy McGrady sitting out with flu-like symptoms. But instead of taking advantage, they sunk to near new levels of futility in the first 24 minutes.

Boston shot 23 percent (10-of-43) from the floor in the first half and split 16 free-throw attempts, scoring just 29 points - two more than its franchise low-record set against Philadelphia in 1982.

"At halftime I told them, 'Just hang in there guys, we're five points down,'" Rivers said. "I told them before the game it was going to be a grind, defensive ugly game. Going into the fourth quarter we were still very positive."

Houston was not much better in the opening 24 minutes, shooting 27 percent (10-of-37), committing 10 turnovers and not scoring a field goal in the last six minutes. The Rockets still led by six.

The teams combined to shoot 28 percent (33-of-117) through three quarters with Houston leading, 53-44.

"Both teams could have made some of the ones they missed," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "The first three quarters we didn't play particularly well, but we competed hard. They got stronger in the fourth quarter and we got weaker, both mentally and physically. We got beat in transition, got beat on the boards."

The Rockets had a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter and seemingly had things under control after a jumper by Bonzi Wells gave them a 68-60 lead with 4:20 left. But the Celtics went on a 13-0 run to take command.

Pierce started the run by following his own miss and later added a turnaround jumper from the right wing to tie the contest, 68-68, with 2:22 left.

"Pierce got rolling. He's their special player," Van Gundy said. "We'll look back on some of those loose-ball plays with regret because we didn't go after the ball."

After Sebastian Telfair blocked Juwan Howard's shot from behind, West scored on a fast-break layup one minute later to give Boston its first lead of the game.

"The game turned around when Sebastian Telfair came in (with 7:35 to play in the fourth and Boston down 62-50)," Pierce said. "He pushed the ball offensively and played good defense.

Pierce then capped the burst with a 3-pointer from the right wing.

"We needed to get a shot off," Pierce said. "I feel I can get a shot off at anytime."

Al Jefferson had 16 points and 17 rebounds for the Celtics, who shot 34 percent (27-of-79) and committed 18 turnovers.

Wells, who started in place of McGrady, was the lone Rocket to show up as the Rockers set a season low in points. He scored a season-high 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting, but the rest of the club shot just 17-of-62.

"We had the game. We were up 10 or 12 in the fourth quarter and we should have put them away," Wells said. "We let them score six or seven straight points and we never really recovered. They got hot and they got confidence.

"It was an ugly game. You took 55 points out of the lineup without Mac and Yao (Ming), but that's no excuse. They're not a bad team, but their record says they're not a very good team. We really should have just beat them."

Wells set career highs with 11 free throws made and 16 attempts.

The Rockets' 32 percent (25-of-78) shooting was a season low, as was their 1-of-22 shooting from the arc. Rafer Alston was 1-for-10 from 3-point range for Houston and Shane Battier shot 1-of-12 from the floor and missed all five 3-pointers. Howard was 5-of-14 and Luther Head 3-of-11.

"We played poorly. We still had a shot to win, but we didn't show enough heart and determination when the game really mattered," Battier said. "We didn't fight hard enough. It was a nasty game all the way around."

Houston is 1-10 without both McGrady and center Yao this season.

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