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Celtics pound Rockets, 'under' comes in

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BOSTON (AP) - Just one week after ending a four-game skid, the Boston Celtics were modestly enjoying their longest winning streak of the season.

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Five straight wins hardly merits a celebration for the Celtics, who extended the streak with a 103-91 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

It's the way Boston has been playing during the past week that seems to have rejuvenated the Celtics.

``I feel good. I feel like we are building,'' said Paul Pierce, who after resting most of the second quarter stormed out of halftime by scoring the first eight points of the third quarter. ``We're getting better and better.''

Pierce finished with 23 points, scoring 16 in the second half as the Celtics withstood a large but brief surge by Houston midway through the fourth quarter.

Kevin Garnett added 17 points and four blocks and Boston got another big night from its surging group of reserves, who outscored Houston's bench 40-25.

Rookie Jared Sullinger had his second straight double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, Courtney Lee also scored 14 and Jeff Green added nine points for the Celtics.

``Everybody's not satisfied, but happy around here,'' Garnett said. ``We've been working really hard to get to this point.''

Garnett said the Celtics still have room to improve - a point made clear in the fourth quarter Friday when the Rockets rallied with 12 straight points to pull within two.

The Celtics had led by as much as 17 and were rattled, but recovered quickly and outscored Houston 20-10 the rest of the way.

The Rockets kept Boston from going to the foul line at all in the first half, but hurt themselves from the line by making just 12 of 29 free throws. The Rockets never found their rhythm on offense, putting up 80 shots and making only 35 of them.

``That's the second game in a row where we haven't shot well, haven't moved it really well,'' said coach Kevin McHale, the former Celtics great whose No. 32 is retired and hangs above Boston's parquet floor. ``We've got a lot of stuff we've got to clean up. We've got to hit the open man, make the extra pass - just clean it up a little bit.''

After winning five straight, the Rockets are 0-2 during a three-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Philadelphia.

James Harden led Houston with 24 points, ending a run of 14 straight games scoring 25 or more. Chandler Parsons added 18 points and Jeremy Lin scored 12. They were the only Houston players to score in double figures.

The Celtics extended their season-high winning streak to five games, but only after surviving the Rockets' 12-0 run that pulled Houston within two points midway through the fourth quarter.

The Rockets had won five straight and 10 of 12 before starting the trip with a loss at New Orleans on Wednesday. After struggling through the first three quarters, Houston put together one big surge in the fourth quarter that stunned the Celtics and their fans - but only for a little while.

``We just had to calm down and get our poise. I thought we were rushing things,'' Pierce said. ``The ball wasn't moving. We didn't good shots. It led to fast break points for them.''

The Rockets trailed by 17 in the third quarter and fell behind 80-66 when Garnett opened the final period with a turnaround jumper. He drew a foul on another turnaround with 10:44 remaining and converted the three-point play to put Boston ahead 83-69.

Houston then snapped out of its funk, scoring 12 straight over the next 3:42 and pulling to 83-81 when Parsons leaped for an unlikely dunk that barely cleared the rim.

Carlos Delfino started the run with a 3-pointer and Parsons caught Boston off-guard during a series of fast breaks, pulling up from beyond the arc and getting the Rockets to 83-77. Harden followed that with a steal and took it in for a dunk as the Rockets continued chipping away at Boston's formerly large lead.

Houston could not keep up the frenzied pace and the Celtics regained control with a 9-2 run following Parsons' dunk.

``We wanted to control the tempo and they got the shots they wanted to get,'' Lin said. ``We didn't make them uncomfortable enough.''

Pierce scored the first eight points of the third quarter, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers and adding two free throws 1:44 into the period to put the Celtics up 61-45. Pierce added two more points on a field goal with 9:20 left as Boston stretched its opening run to 11-2 and led 64-47.

The Rockets scored seven straight to pull within 10, but Boston was off and running again on a 10-2 run. Rajon Rondo started it with an offensive rebound and putback, then Avery Bradley hit a 3-pointer for his first bucket of the night after missing his first five shots.

NOTES: Boston didn't get to the foul line in the first half, but managed just fine offensively by making 24 of 44 from the field and led 53-45 at the break. ... Sullinger had 14 points and eight rebounds at halftime. He was coming off a career-best performance Wednesday when he had 16 rebounds in a win over Phoenix, but had to sit when he drew his fifth foul early in the fourth. ... McHale was making his first appearance back in Boston as the Rockets' coach. ... Omer Asik had 11 rebounds for the Rockets. ... Rondo finished with 12 points and eight assists.

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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