JOURNAL SPORTS WRITER
BOSTON - Boston's savior has arrived in the form of the 6-foot-11, 253-pound phenom, Kevin Garnett.
After missing the previous 10 games with a hyper-extended right knee, Garnett returned to Boston's lineup to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 18,624 at the Garden.
He provided the spark that had sorely been missed in Boston's previous 12 games, where it went 4-8, and feeding off of that fire, the Celtics survived a stiff contest against the injury-plagued Portland Trailblazers who were playing without two-time All-Star guard Brandon Roy among others, winning the overtime battle, 98-95, to snap a three-game losing streak.
Portland erased an 11-point lead and tied the game at 91-91 on a Martell Webster 22-foot jumper with 34.2 seconds remaining in the game, despite losing Roy's replacement, Jerryd Bayless (12 points, 4 assists) early in the third quarter to a sprained left ankle.
The Celtics called a timeout to draw up the potential game-winning play, and they called a clear-out for captain Paul Pierce. Pierce beat his defender on a drive to the basket, but when he got there, Portland guard Andre Miller (28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) was waiting for him. Miller stood his ground, drew contact, and Pierce was called for an offensive foul with 1.1 seconds left. He fouled out of the game on the call.
Kendrick Perkins (4 points, 11 rebounds) blocked a LaMarcus Aldridge 6-foot jumper as time expired, sending the game into overtime where neither team scored over the opening two minutes of the opening period.
Rajon Rondo (19 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds) finally gave the Celtics a 93-91 lead when he sank a 20-foot jumper with 2:55 remaining in the extra session, but Portland center Juwan Howard tipped-in a missed shot to tie the game. Miller then gave Portland's its first lead since early in the fourth quarter with a layup with 1:51 remaining.
With the crowd on its collective feet, Ray Allen, who had only made two of his previous 13 shots, drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing with 41.3 seconds left to put Boston back on top, 96-95.
After a Portland timeout, the Celtics, a team that prides itself on defense, forced Aldridge (19 points, 10 rebounds) into taking a bad 19-foot shot. He missed it and Allen tracked down the rebound and made the outlet pass to a streaking Tony Allen who sealed the win with an emphatic two-handed jam.
Portland had one last chance to tie the score but Rudy Fernandez missed back-to-back 3-pointers on the Trailblazers final possession.
"I think our guys [were] tired of performing the way they've performed," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I think we want to win every game, clearly, but when you lose a game, our guys prefer to lose when they give their best and play their best. I think they can swallow that. I think the last couple of weeks have been difficult for them and when they add it up I think that frustration has gotten to us a little bit and that's a good thing."
Garnett started the game strong, but the rust and fatigue eventually began to show. In the end, he finished with 13 points and 4 points in 30 minutes, but more importantly, he provided the cohesiveness that was sorely lacking in his absence.
"Kevin is such a leader on the floor, he gives everyone more of a sense of urgency when they're playing because he demands it," Rivers said. "It is also good to hear his voice out on the floor."
With Garnett out, the Celtics had a lot of miscommunication. They suffered from defensive breakdowns, and played uninspired basketball in the second half of games. The Celtics have been outscored in 12 of their last 13 games in the second half, but that didn't hurt them last night.
"In the third and fourth quarter our effort had been lacking," Perkins said. "That's when we missed KG. He brings that energy that had been lacking lately. Basically that had been costing us games."
With Garnett back demanding the absolute best from his teammates, the Celtics played well on both ends of the floor in both halves.
"He keeps everyone accountable and that's good," Rivers said. "It's because it's pure. When Kevin says stuff [everyone listens]."
The Celtics came out fired up, shredding the Trailblazers defense for 48 points in the opening 18 minutes of the game. Then they got complacent, and Portland took advantage, outscoring the Celtics, 9-2, over the next three minutes to slash Boston's game-high 11-point lead down to 50-46.
But the Celtics were not to be denied on their home court.
Portland (26-18), the second-best team in the Northwest Division, had won three of its previous four games.
"We haven't played well here in the last couple of seasons," Portland coach Nate McMillan, referring to Portland's 2-9 record against Boston since the 2004-05 season. "[The Celtics are] a team that gets after you defensively. They play physical basketball that can mentally take you out [of the game] which they did."
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