SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -Struggling for over a month, the Boston Celtics entered the All-Star break last week understanding their current trend needed to end quickly or their chances for an NBA title were very slim.
Although the Celtics weren't sharp in their first game back Tuesday night, the effort was good enough to hold off the Sacramento Kings in the first of four road games against Western Conference teams. Rasheed Wallace and Paul Pierce each scored 17 points, and the Celtics used a strong defensive effort to beat Sacramento 95-92.
The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Celtics, who had lost five of eight before the All-Star break. Boston is 10-13 since Christmas and has seen its Atlantic Division lead shrink to 4 1/2 games over second-place Toronto.
``I'm happy, the first win on this road trip was big for us,' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``I don't know what tone we set, but we got a win and now we have to move to the next game. That is how we are approaching the next 31 games. We're not looking ahead, we're not sending messages. We're just trying to win this game, get better tonight and focus on the next game.'
It certainly wasn't a pretty win. Rivers says the Celtics missed 12 relatively easy shots from close range and the Kings blocked 11 shots in effectively sealing off the inside. Boston didn't shoot well from the perimeter either, finishing at 37.5 percent overall, including 5 of 18 in the fourth when it was outscored 23-19.
``We shot the ball poorly,' said Ray Allen, who was 5 of 15 overall and hit on just one of six 3-point attempts. ``We missed a lot of easy looks, but we didn't hang our heads, we got back and played defense.'
Omri Casspi scored 19 points, Tyreke Evans had 17 points, seven assists and tied a career high with 11 rebounds, and Jason Thompson added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Kings, who have dropped 19 of 23 since Dec. 28.
The Kings also shot just 38 percent and missed eight of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, including six straight during one futile stretch. The Kings were 19 of 30 overall.
``I don't know how to measure frustration, but it was obvious we lost the game at the free-throw line, mostly all in the fourth quarter,' Kings coach Paul Westphal said. ``That was the difference.'
Allen scored 15 points and Eddie House had 12 for Boston, which made six straight free throws in the final 15.4 seconds to seal the victory.
Evans cut the lead to 91-90 on a 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left. Fouled immediately after the basket, Allen made both free throws to put the Celtics ahead 93-90. Casspi followed with two free throws to pull Sacramento within 93-92 with 4.2 seconds remaining.
Two free throws by Pierce put the Celtics' lead back to three, and Casspi missed two free-throw attempts, the second on purpose, to conclude the game.
``We were competitive all through the game with one of the best teams in the league and then lose the game on the free-throw line,' said Casspi, a rookie who shot 2 of 6 in the fourth. ``It was tough. I even made a free throw I tried to miss.'
Injuries to several key players have contributed to a radical departure for a team that opened the season 23-5. Boston is already two losses shy of their total from last season and two over the total from their 2007-08 championship season.
``It was important for us to get this win and get some momentum,' said Kevin Garnett, who had nine points and nine rebounds. ``It was a team effort tonight. Our bench came in and played unbelievable.'
Trailing the entire second half, the Kings took an 85-84 lead when Casspi connected on a 3-pointer with 3:37 remaining.
After a quiet first half, Allen scored seven points in the third quarter when Boston extended its lead to 76-69 heading into the fourth.
Boston's bench played a big role in the opening half, contributing 34 points. Wallace, in a reserve role, scored 10 points and House had nine, helping Boston assume a 57-52 lead. Casspi scored 12 points for the Kings.
NOTES: Francisco Garcia, who broke his forearm in a freak preseason injury, played in his first game of the season, going scoreless in one minute in the second quarter. ... House made three consecutive 3-pointers, scoring nine straight points for Boston in the second quarter when the Celtics led 27-22. ... The Kings announced Tuesday they would be reducing lower-level season-ticket prices by 6 percent for next season.
The Associated Press News Service
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