BOSTON (AP) - The streaky Boston Celtics are winning again, just in time for an Atlantic Division showdown with the first-place Philadelphia 76ers.
Paul Pierce scored seven of his 30 points in overtime on Tuesday night as the Celtics recovered from a second-half slumber to beat the Houston Rockets 97-92 for their fifth consecutive win since the All-Star break. The Celtics had lost five in a row heading into the break.
``We're starting to play good basketball, and we're starting to win games where we don't play good basketball,' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ``And that may be more important.'
Kevin Garnett grabbed 13 rebounds to pass Shaquille O'Neal and move into 12th on the NBA's career list. Ray Allen scored 21, including a 3-pointer to give Boston the lead with 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Rajon Rondo had 12 assists, but all of his nine points came in the first quarter and he missed an open layup with a chance to clinch it in regulation. Goran Dragic tied it for the Rockets to force overtime.
It was the second straight overtime game for Boston, which beat the New York Knicks on Sunday. The Celtics could tie the Sixers atop the division with a victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
``We're still not there yet,' Rondo said.
Luis Scola had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Samuel Dalembert had 11 points and 17 boards for Houston, which lost for the fourth game in a row. The Rockets, who had been outrebounded in 10 consecutive games, grabbed 57 rebounds to 38 for Boston.
Garnett finished with 13,100 rebounds, one more than O'Neal.
``I think when you're old, you have a milestone every night,' Rivers said.
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 more 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.
``We started doing the worst thing you can do on the road: Just start playing the score as opposed to playing the game,' Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. ``We lost our rhythm a little bit and then we just got too conservative trying to run the clock, trying to play perfect basketball.'
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 back of the rim.
``The fact that we were in overtime was very lucky. What are the chances that Rondo misses a wide-open layup with nobody close to him?' Scola said. ``The fact that we played the overtime was a bonus, was a present. We lost the game before that.'
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.
The Associated Press News Service
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