C's Crush Rockets, Ending Houston's 22-game Streak


C's Crush Rockets, Ending Houston's 22-game Streak

HOUSTON - The Celtics sent the hot Rockets back to earth last night.

The second-longest winning streak in NBA history - 22 games - ended when the Celtics brought down the Rockets, 94-74, at the Toyota Center, handing Houston its first loss since Jan. 27.

With their 13th win in 14 games, the Celtics pushed their NBA-best record to 54-13. They have won seven straight on the road. A night after winning at San Antonio, the Celtics improved to 14-2 in the second of back-to-back games.

The Celtics are 3-0 on this five-game trip and improved their road record to 25-8.

Kevin Garnett, shrugging off comments by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor that he "tanked it" at the end of last season, led the Celtics with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Leon Powe provided 21 points off the bench, and Paul Pierce had 20.

Houston star Tracy McGrady was held to 8 points on 4-of-11 shooting, while Di-

Timberwolves owner accuses Garnett of "tanking it" last year. D5

kembe Mutombo mustered only 2 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes.

"Someone had to do it, eventually," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We happened to do it.

"It's a good win for us. Great test. Good energy in the building."

The Celtics were without Ray Allen (left ankle) for the third straight game. Rivers is hopeful that he can play tomorrow at Dallas.

Before the game, Rivers scoffed at a media question about whether the absence of stars such as Allen with Boston and Pau Gasol with the Lakers took something away from the Rockets' winning streak.

"You can't take anything away from it," Rivers said. "I don't care who plays. What they've done has been absolutely terrific. It's good for them. It's good for the league and there is absolutely nothing you can say about it."

There was nothing to be said about whether the game was highly anticipated.

TNT picked up the contest to televise nationally. Media from around the country braved bad travel conditions to make it to the game. Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon sat courtside (not far from Roger Clemens's attorney, Rusty Hardin).

Local ticket brokers had a hard time meeting demand for the game. Even so, Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who is from nearby Beaumont, was able to land 50 tickets.

"It feels good to be back home," Perkins said.

Rockets guard Rafer Alston, known for talking trash, had recent run-ins with Hornets center Tyson Chandler and Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic. Add Rajon Rondo to his list of targets.

At the opening tap, as Alston tried to get position, he seemed to elbow Rondo in the neck. Rondo responded by pushing Alston. After several pushes, Rondo balled his fists at his side.

After being separated by a referee, both Rondo and Alston were slapped with technicals. Nothing further ensued, but the crowd went wild. When Houston coach Rick Adelman told Alston to relax, he replied that he was trying to get in Rondo's head.

Boston jumped to a 13-6 lead after a Paul Pierce lay-in with 6:45 left in the first quarter. Alston, however, picked Sam Cassell's pocket before making a lay-in with 3.4 seconds left in the first to give Houston a 22-21 lead.

Powe's lay-in sliced Boston's deficit to 34-31 with 5:38 left in the second quarter. Pierce's 3-point bank shot tied the game at 40 with 30.2 seconds. Powe made 3 of 4 shots and three free throws to score 9 points in the second.

The Celtics shot 37.8 percent from the field (17 of 45) in the first half and had only 6 assists. Pierce had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting by intermission while Powe added 12. The Rockets shot 48.6 percent in the first half, but missed 5 of 7 free throw attempts.

The Celtics opened the third quarter with a 12-4 run to take a 52-44 lead, making 5 of 7 field goal attempts. With the arena hushed, Houston called a timeout. A Perkins lay-in pushed Boston's lead to 58-45 with 5:42 left in the third.

"We talked about in the second half calming down, running our stuff, and breathing," Rivers said.

With 3:18 left in the third, Tony Allen was fouled hard by Luis Scola as he took the ball to the basket. Allen hit his lower back as he fell, and he lay on the floor for a couple of minutes before slowly getting back up.

Scola was given a flagrant-1 technical, and Allen made both free throws to give Boston a 64-52 lead. He was replaced by James Posey and did not return.

The Celtics finished the third with a 72-56 lead after a put-back by Powe with 0.1 seconds left. The Celtics outscored the Rockets, 32-16, after shooting 52.2 percent from the field. Boston made 12 of 23 shots while Houston missed 9 of 16.

Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo all scored 8 in the third.

Powe's jumper with 9:57 left gave Boston 21-point lead, 77-56. During a timeout with 8:45 left, Rockets fans began heading toward the exits, though those that remained cheered loudly in hopes of firing up their team.

But two free throws by Garnett gave Boston an 81-58 lead with 7:01 remaining that was too much to overcome.

Garnett applied the exclamation point with an emphatic dunk that gave the Celtics an 89-64 lead with 2:08 left. Shortly thereafter, during a Houston timeout, the Celtics celebrated wildly, with Cassell yelling to a teammate, "Yeah, they wanted it!"

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