Celtics Awaken in Time to Beat Rockets 97-92 in OT

Boston has won five straight since the All-Star break, including two in a row in overtime. Houston has lost four in a row.

Ray Allen scored 21, including a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give Boston the lead. But Rajon Rondo missed an open layup with a chance to clinch it in regulation, and Goran Dragic tied it for the Rockets.

Pierce scored seven points over a 2:05 span in overtime.

Luis Scola had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Samuel Dalembert had 11 points and 17 boards for Houston.

The Rockets, who had been outrebounded in 10 consecutive games, grabbed 57 rebounds to 38 for Boston, which beat the New York Knicks in overtime on Sunday.

Garnett finished with 13,100 rebounds, one more than O’Neal.

Rondo had 12 assists, but all of his nine points came in the first quarter.

Houston trailed 57-47 with 8 minutes left in the third but outscored the Celtics 21-6 over the rest of the quarter. Boston made just one basket in the final 8:58 of the period, and just one in the first 7:16 of the fourth.

The Celtics trailed 80-70 with 5:33 left before scoring 14 of the next 16 points, taking advantage of back-to-back Houston airballs and 24-second clock violations and making it a three-point game, 80-77, on a fast break from Pierce to Rondo to Allen with 2:49 left.

Houston again ran down the 24-second clock, with Kyle Lowry forcing up a 30-footer at the buzzer. This one caught the rim and Dalembert got the rebound and made a layup. Pierce made two free throws, then Garnett grabbed another defensive rebound — tying O’Neal — and made a pair of free throws to make it 82-81.

Courtney Lee missed a scoop shot, and Allen got the rebound. The Celtics moved the ball up in transition and then Allen got the ball in the left corner, sidestepped Lee’s lunge and drained a 3-pointer to give Boston an 84-82 lead with 36 seconds left.

Scola missed again for Houston and Allen got the rebound. Rondo broke for the basket and got the ball with a clear shot, but he missed the uncontested layup. Scola hit Dragic for a long jumper to tie it.

Allen had a contested shot at the buzzer to win it in regulation, but it went off the rim.

Allen opened the scoring in overtime, and after Dragic’s jumper, Garnett gave Boston an 88-86 lead. Pierce then ran off seven straight Celtics points, starting with a three-point play that gave them the lead for good.

Notes: Pierce has played in 998 NBA games, third all-time on the Celtics. … Rockets coach Kevin McHale, a former Celtic, got a big cheer when he was shown on the scoreboard before the game. … Dalembert fouled out with 48 seconds left in overtime. … Houston fell to 8-3 against the Eastern Conference this season.

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Celtics Hoping to Hold Serve at Home

He’s going to stick around.

Pierce was ejected from the series opener with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and in Game 2 he strained his left Achilles’ tendon in the first half and was still hobbling down the stretch. He knows that Boston’s chances of avoiding a 3-0 hole depend on his ability to stick around at the end, and he plans to be there.

“Paul Pierce being in the game in the fourth quarter, healthy, is always going to help the Celtics,” he said before practice on Friday.

The Heat took the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals in Miami, and the series resumes with Game 3 on Saturday night in Boston. For these Celtics, who have never fallen behind 0-2 since the New Big Three was assembled in the summer of 2007, it’s a crucial game to avoid what could be an insurmountable hole.

“We still feel like it’s going to be a seven-game series,” Pierce said. “I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall.”

The Celtics have reason to be optimistic that they can at least make a series of it. They are back at home, where this core is 29-7 in the playoffs, and they expect to be healthier than they have been in a while, thanks in part to the three days off since their Game 2 loss.

That will help Ray Allen, who has a bruised chest from being elbowed by , and Rajon Rondo, who has a stiff back. Pierce said his Achilles’ is fine, and coach said he expects to have coming off the bench for the first time in the postseason.

O’Neal has played just 5 minutes, 29 seconds since Feb. 1 because of a leg injury.

“Other than that, we don’t know what he can give us on the floor,” Rivers said, adding that O’Neal would not be limited in practice. “There’s no way we can get him at 100 percent. That ship has sailed. That would be a miracle. But we can get him to a point where he can help us.”

O’Neal came to Boston for just this time of year, but he missed the sweep of the in the first round and the first two games against Miami because of a calf injury in his right leg. The Celtics originally called it a “minor” injury, and he has been day-to-day from month-to-month, but he hasn’t gotten back on the court.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “Shaq is a champion. He’s a guy who has won four rings. He’s had a lot of big playoff moments. Having him back is going to be a boost in energy to the crowd and to the team. But it’s our job to go in and continue executing our game plan and not really worry about who’s coming back, who’s in the lineup and who isn’t.”

The defending Eastern Conference champions, Boston won it all in 2008 and took the to seven games in the NBA finals last year. The Celtics cruised through the Knicks in the first round for their date with Heat — a matchup that had been anticipated ever since James and Chris Bosh joined Wade in Miami to form the league’s newest superteam.

But to get past them, Boston will have to do something its has never had to do before: Rally from two games down in the playoffs.

“The whole thing’s a challenge,” forward said. “Our mentality is an all-in mentality for tomorrow’s game. … This is it. We’ve used all our lifelines. I hate to say it like that, but it’s true. This is not a cool, kind of, ‘Keep your composure.’ No, this is ‘We’ve got to get the next game.’ It’s all-in. This is it, I’ve got two pocket kings and I’m all in.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra would expect nothing less.

“They’re a poised, experienced team that’s been through it all,” he said. “And they’ve been through this before, where everybody’s throwing dirt on them, saying that whatever it may be, that it’s near the end of the line, that their guys have too many miles on those wheels.

“We don’t believe any of that,” Spoelstra said. “Every time you count them out, they come back with a championship response. That’s who they’ve been. That’s what they deserve. They deserve that type of respect.”


AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story from Miami.

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Reeling Celtics Could Receive Boost From O’Neal’s Return

It was again Thursday as the Celtics convened for their first practice session since falling behind, 2-0, to the in the . Coach finally could say he anticipated that O’Neal would play when the series resumes Saturday night at TD Garden.

“We’re not going to let him do too much,” Rivers said. “Someone will ask: How much is too much? I don’t know what too much is. Walking on the floor could be too much. We’ll figure that out.”

Rivers did say that O’Neal would not start.

The , he was returning from a strained right Achilles’ tendon, which had kept him out for more than two months. He played a spirited five and a half minutes, delighting the crowd and his teammates, before he came up limping with what the team said was a strained right calf.

Even after the April 3 injury, the team hoped O’Neal would be ready for the playoffs. But before the start of their series against the , the Celtics said O’Neal failed a basic running drill and would be out indefinitely. He missed all four games of that series and the first two in Miami.

O’Neal, 39, missed a career-high 45 games this season, his first with the Celtics after signing as a free agent over the summer. All of the missed games were a result of injuries to his right leg.

Asked how O’Neal, listed at 7 feet 1 and 325 pounds, might affect the game, Rivers said: “He’ll be big. At the end of the day, he’ll be big.”

O’Neal’s availability for Game 3 hinges on his being able to make it through practice Friday and whatever pregame session the team has Saturday. He was not available for interviews Thursday.

While O’Neal’s return could provide an emotional boost, the strong likelihood is that he will play limited minutes. It falls on the starters, the ones likely to play 35 to 40 minutes, to turn around the series. Rivers said that Paul Pierce (strained left Achilles’), Rajon Rondo (sore back) and Ray Allen (sore chest) were better after some Game 2 bumps and bruises.

The Celtics spent most of their time Thursday going over film from the first two games, a loss in Game 1 and a loss in Game 2. Rivers found many areas of concern, but none that he said could not be corrected. Still, he knows that fixing the errors may not be enough.

“You have to deal with the fact that they have great confidence,” he said of the Heat. “We gave it to them.”

Rivers talked about the need to stay composed, avoiding what he called “mental hijackings.” He said the Heat played harder in the first two games, finished stronger at the basket and attempted 68 free throws to the Celtics’ 40, even though Boston was called for only five more fouls. took no free throws over 74 minutes in the two games.

“They beat us; we tip our hats to them,” said Allen, the only starter made available to reporters Thursday. “They did what they set out to do. We don’t like the way we played in either game. We have to rectify that.”

Asked what he thought was most important, Allen echoed a party line: “Just be more on the attack. It seems like they attacked us all day long. Offensively, we have to attack more and then take that easy stuff away.”

The Celtics also need to tighten up defensively. They allowed the fewest points per game in the regular season, 91.1; Miami is averaging 100.5. The Celtics were No. 5 in 3-point field goal defense at 34 percent; Miami is making 45.7 percent of its 3-pointers. Miami is also shooting 46.2 percent as a team; Celtics opponents shot 43.4 percent during the regular season.

But on top of Rivers’s to-do list is, simply, to win. The Celtics probably need to win Games 3 and 4; otherwise they would be in a 3-1 hole with the prospect of winning twice in Miami. But they have to start with Saturday.

The Heat has never lost a playoff series in which it led by 2-0. But the Heat knows that being up by 2-0 is no guarantee. Miami trailed the , 2-0, in the 2006 N.B.A. finals and won the series in six games.

The 1969 Celtics rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the N.B.A. finals to beat the in seven games. Seven other Celtics teams have faced a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. All lost, and three were swept.

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