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8.15.2009

Celtics Escape with Home Win over Clippers

Celtics Finish Fast Start 29-5
1990-91 Boston Celtics

The Celtics were overdue for something uncomfortable at home. They could only hope that it would end the way it did.

The Clippers had other ideas and almost made it two straight in Boston Garden. But a late Boston stand, and four Reggie Lewis free throws in the final minute, enabled the Celtics to escape with a 109-107 victory last night.

In winning their third straight without Larry Bird, the Celtics held the Clippers without a point for the final 2:08 and without a basket for the final 3:36.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't impressive. It wasn't settled until the final play. Only then could coach Chris Ford do a grateful pirouette on the sideline.

"We needed one like this," said Kevin Gamble, who led the Celtics with 26, including 13 in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. "It was a close one for a change. Everyone's heart was pumping. Everyone was nervous. We haven't had many like this."

At home, they hadn't had any. It was their 17th straight home victory and 18th in 19 games. Prior to last night, the closest a team had come in any of the Boston victories was 8 points.

Overall, Boston has won six straight and 14 of 15.

Still, the Celtics had to battle for every point, and even then, it took a long, lucky bounce off a missed free throw to give them the last shot. Lewis missed the second of two freebies with 20.1 seconds left, leaving the score tied at 107-107. The rebound caromed away from everyone, Lewis was able to retrieve it, and Boston called time.

Out of the break, the initial call was for a dump-in to Kevin McHale, who finished with 23. But Lewis, who had 24, found himself isolated on the left side against Danny Manning.

"There's no way Manning can stay in front of Reggie," McHale said. "When you see a mismatch like that, then you have to go to it."

Said Lewis, "I do have the advantage in quickness. I went baseline, gave a head fake, got fouled and went to the line."

Manning was called for the foul. Lewis calmly made them both with 2.5 seconds left.

The perenially up-and-coming Clippers had one last chance. Manning tried a long inbounds pass from midcourt to Charles Smith, a play that worked a couple of times last year. But Robert Parish (14 points, 17 rebounds) stepped in front of the receiver for the game-ending interception.

The Clippers were anything but distraught afterward. They didn't play like a 12-24 team, and in that they took some comfort. They outshot Boston (48.8-46.6 percent), outrebounded Boston (46-44), had more field goals (42-41), more assists (29-20) -- and 2 fewer points.

"Overall, we played an excellent game," said Smith, who had 25 points. "We did everything we were supposed to do. They just scored 2 more than we did."

This was the last game of a brutal Eastern stretch for the Clips, and given their 3-16 road mark and Boston's home omnipotence, everything pointed to yet another big-time blowout. But LA came out and played hard, stopped the Celtics' motion game (Boston had one transition hoop in the first half) and led by 9 after one and at intermission.

The Celtics made the obligatory run in the third, tying the game in less than three minutes and taking the lead a minute later. But the Clippers took the blow and bounced back and led, 81-80, entering the fourth.

Gamble then got untracked in the fourth -- "I felt someone had to pick up the slack," he said -- with a mixed bag of moves. His layup with 6:16 remaining gave Boston a 99-93 lead, and at that point, the Celtics had converted on 25 of 30 second-half possessions.

"I think everyone in the house thought it was over then," Ford said.

Using a bizarre lineup that featured Tom Garrick and Winston Garland in the backcourt, Los Angeles came out of a timeout and stunned the Celtics with a 12-2 run. Benoit Benjamin (18 points, 20 rebounds) started it with a turnaround, and Smith ended it with two freebies with 2:51 remaining. It was 105-101, Los Angeles.

The Clips still led by 4 (107-103) and had the ball with 1:55 remaining. But McHale blocked Smith from behind and Parish was whacked at the other end, converting both free throws. Then Garrick missed from the corner, the rebound squirted to Lewis, and he got to the line and made one.

Smith then was called for traveling with 38.3 seconds left -- a huge call given the time and the score. Lewis again got fouled, and again made one. The Clippers couldn't control the rebound, and almost as if ordained from above, everything fell into place for Boston's final -- and successful -- foray.

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