for this game

Garnett takes over as Celtics slip past Rockets

Jan 3, 2008 - 5:01 AM By Mike Petraglia PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics literally jumped on the back of Kevin Garnett to ride to a hard-fought win over the Houston Rockets.

Garnett scored nine of his 26 points in a furious four-minute span to lead the Celtics to a 97-93 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Pierce added 19 for the Celtics, who won their seventh straight game.

Bonzi Wells scored 25 off the bench to lead the Rockets, who were without star Tracy McGrady - missing his fourth straight game with left knee tendinitis.

The Celtics (27-3), who just finished a rare undefeated four-game West Coast road trip, looked weary in the second half after building a 20-point first-half lead.

"Great win, obviously, and tough, because you could see the energy just slowly seeping away," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "What we talked about was mental toughness before the game. And these are the games that are tough because I can see it in shootaround, I could just see it in the locker room before the game, everybody was flat."

But Garnett hit several key shots in a fourth-quarter spurt that proved enough to hold off Houston.

Boston's new star hit four field goals in a four-minute span, including one with 1:14 to go, to give Boston a 94-89 lead. Garnett drilled a 19-footer with 22 seconds remaining.

"I mean my gas is high (octane)," Garnett said. "You know when you play the best in the league you can't go in with low gas, you know you got to have a lot of high octane. This building, I mean I fed off this building, these fans are like the spark plug, and I just plugged in and I didn't even think what I was doing.

"I saw Paul was aggressive, and I had open shots, and early I felt I hesitated, but in the fourth quarter, I just went for it," Garnett added.

It was Pierce who jumped on Garnett's back in celebration as Houston called a timeout following the final decisive shot.

"Well, I mean it speaks for itself, you watched the game, I mean he hit the open shots and once we had Yao Ming on him we knew that was a matchup we could go to, regardless," Pierce said. "We started mixing it up on different ways we could get Kevin the ball and he got hot, inside and out, and that's what we have to do."

Even without their leading scorer, the Rockets made life much more difficult than expected for the Celtics.

In what has been a rarity this season at home, Boston fell behind in the game's opening minutes. Rafer Alston made consecutive baskets to give the Rockets an early 7-2 advantage with 9:35 remaining in the first.

But Garnett's 10-foot turnaround fadeaway jumper started the Celtics on a 13-0 run that gave them early control of the contest.

Boston would finish the quarter shooting 68 percent, making 13-of-19 shots from the field and building their lead up to as many as 14. Houston, meanwhile, went cold and shot just 7-of-24 for the quarter.

With a 30-16 lead after one, the Celtics continued their hot shooting early in the second, pushing the advantage to 40-20 on Glen Davis' putback with 8:30 remaining in the second.

"In the first quarter, I think I hurt the team by (shooting) 2-for-10 on field goals," said Yao, who was held to 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting. "The first quarter we only had 16 points. In the second half, Bonzi, Rafer, they really stood out and played a good game. We need to keep doing that."

But Houston failed to roll over, outscoring Boston, 22-13, to close the quarter and draw to within 53-42 at halftime.

The Rockets continued their steady comeback in the third quarter, drawing to within five at 69-64 on Yao's layup and free throw with 2:59 remaining in the period.

"They played really well in the first quarter," Wells said. "They really jumped on us and sent a message to us. This is the NBA, and we were hoping we could make a run and we did, got a few stops and got ourselves back in the game.

"Down the stretch, they made plays, got a couple of offensive boards, and broke our back."

But Boston scored seven of the final 11 points in the quarter to take a 76-68 lead into the fourth.

Alston connected on a layup and was fouled with 8:56 remaining in the fourth. His free throw completed a three-point play and gave Houston its first lead, 79-78, since the first quarter.

The Rockets would build their lead to 84-81 before Garnett took over.

"Offensively, in the second half, I just felt like the ball didn't move as much as it did in the first," Garnett said. "They made a run and made some adjustments and then we made some adjustments late there in the fourth."

Ray Allen added 13 points and grabbed two big offensive rebounds in the final minutes, and Rajon Rondo added 13 and nine assists for the Celtics, who shot 53 percent (41-of-77) for the game.

"He definitely made him uncomfortable on defense, and on offense he stretched him," Allen said of Garnett's defense on Yao. "He forced him to play him on our side of the ball; Kevin made a lot of big shots down the stretch. That was the difference."

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