LOS ANGELES - After five games spread over nine days of travel up and down the West Coast, the Celtics returned to Boston early this morning a changed team. The proof came last night against the Clippers at the Staples Center, where they pulled out a huge double overtime win, 134-127. This was not the same team that earlier on the trip had trouble executing down the stretch. With clutch baskets and free throws from Ricky Davis (34 points) at the end of regulation and OT, a big-time 3-pointer by Gary Payton in the first overtime, and another by Jiri Welsch late in the second OT among the highlights, the Celtics showed they could compete at the end of a tightly contested game. And they did it all without Paul Pierce, who fouled out in the fourth quarter.
With executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge yelling at referee Mike Callahan to "quit choking," the officials awarded Corey Maggette a pair of free throws in the second OT and the Clippers were on their way to tying the game. Kerry Kittles evened it, 125-125, by nailing a 3-pointer with 1 minute 8 seconds remaining in the second extra session. A goaltending call on a layup by Payton allowed Boston to regain the lead, 127-125, with 56.4 seconds left. Kittles struck again with a 20-footer that tied it, 127-127, with 44.6 seconds to go. Another Payton layup put Boston up, 129-127. The Clippers failed to score and resorted to fouling. Davis hit another pair of free throws with 19.3 seconds left to put Boston ahead by 4.
Next, he completed a 3-point play to seal the win.
"We've lost a lot of close games in the fourth quarter," Davis told FSN after the game. "But this team is getting it. We're figuring out how to win ballgames."
After rallying in the first OT to force a second extra session, Boston jumped to a quick 122-118 lead. Welsch hit Davis for an alley-oop dunk in the opening seconds of the second OT. Then, Tony Allen hit a 23-footer and Payton followed with a layup. The Clippers, who now seemingly had the tired legs, struggled to hit shots.
The Celtics looked road-weary and ready to return home until the final minutes of regulation, when they became energized by a close game. The Celtics had closed within 5 (103-98) when Pierce was called for a charge and fouled out with 3 minutes 35 seconds left.
Davis became the go-to-guy on offense, coming up with an number of big shots in the final minutes, including a pair of clutch free throws that tied the game, 109-109, with 8.7 seconds remaining. It remained that way after a big combination block by Allen and Mark Blount on Maggette in the final seconds, and the game went to overtime.
Playing like they had nothing to lose without Pierce, the Celtics had used a 3-pointer by Davis to close within 2 (103-101) down the stretch. The teams traded shots before Kittles pushed the Clippers ahead, 107-103, by sinking a 14-footer at the shot-clock buzzer. Elton Brand made one of two free throws with 1:09 left to put LA ahead, 108-103. Then, Davis came through again with a 17-footer that made it a 3-point game. After the Clippers committed a turnover with 31.4 seconds remaining, Davis went in for a layup and drew Boston within a point, 108-107. Kittles went to the line and made only one of two, keeping it a 2-point game with 18.9 seconds remaining. Then came Davis's free throws and the big block and it was on to OT.
During the third quarter, the Celtics were reminded why it can be a dangerous practice to depend too much on one scorer. Pierce was having a night to remember from the floor until he picked up his fourth and fifth fouls late in the third. It took only 18 seconds for Pierce's night to go from good to bad. He picked up his fourth personal with 5:47 remaining in the third on a shooting foul. Then, Pierce committed a turnover and the officials called the captain for a loose ball foul with 5:29 to go in the quarter.