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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

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Take it lying down: Memphis guard Mike Conley calls for a timeout as Denver's Nene tries to wrestle the ball away from him during the Grizzlies' 100-97 win on Tuesday. AP

Lightning almost strikes twice as Celtics hold off Cavaliers rally


CLEVELAND — The Boston Celtics didn't completely collapse.

They merely crumbled this time.

Two days after blowing a big late lead and losing at home to Cleveland, the Celtics nearly did it again before recovering and hanging on for a 93-90 win over the scrappy Cavaliers, who trimmed a 22-point deficit to 2 in the final minutes.

Paul Pierce scored 20 points, Ray Allen had 12 in the third quarter and Kevin Garnett made a key jumper down the stretch for the Celtics, who came away victorious but unfulfilled.

"I hate it," Allen said. "We won, but I take it as a loss in terms of getting better. Being able to play for a full four quarters is what I want. Every day we have to get better."

On Sunday, Boston wasted an 11-point lead in the final 4:25 as the Cavaliers scored the game's final 12 points, capped by sensational rookie Kyrie Irving's layup with 2.6 seconds left, to stun the Celtics.

It nearly happened again, but the Cavs couldn't quite climb out of a 22-point hole.

"We just couldn't finish it off," said Irving, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. "We fought back. They gave us their best shot and it came down to the final minutes. We're just got to keep our energy up for 48 minutes."

Garnett and Brandon Bass added 13 points apiece for the Celtics, who were again without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. He missed his seventh straight game with an injured right wrist, and although the Celtics improved to 5-2 without him, it was anything but easy.

Anderson Varejao added 20 points and a career-high 20 rebounds for the Cavs, who were also short-handed while playing without injured guards Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker.

Boston entered the fourth leading by 16 — a reasonably comfortable margin. Or so the Celtics thought.

The Cavs weren't done.

With Varejao outworking Boston's big men underneath for nearly every rebound and loose ball and Irving taking control, the Cavaliers stormed back and closed within 78-71 when Alonzo Gee drained a 3-pointer with 6:36 to play, sending Cleveland's crowd into a frenzy.

Pierce and Garnett restored order with buckets and the Celtics pushed their lead to 11. But the Cavs kept fighting and were only down four with 1:18 left when Irving scored on a layup eerily similar to the game-winner he dropped after spinning down the lane at Boston Garden to win Sunday's game.

On Boston's next trip, Garnett hit the game's biggest bucket. His turnaround jumper from 13 feet caromed off the rim and halfway up the backboard before dropping in, giving the Celtics, who looked and played tight down the stretch, some breathing room.

Knicks 113, Pistons 86

In New York, Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points in his return to the lineup, Landry Fields added 16 of his 18 in a flawless first half, and the Knicks snapped a three-game losing streak.

Pacers 106, Nets 99

In Indianapolis, Paul George scored a career-high 24 points.

Hawks 100, Raptors 77

In Toronto, Joe Johnson needed just three quarters to match his season high with 30 points, and Tracy McGrady scored 15 against his former team.

Grizzlies 100, Nuggets 97 (OT)

In Memphis, O.J. Mayo scored 18 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds left in overtime, as the Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing streak.

Lakers 106, Bobcats 73

In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant scored 24 points, Andrew Bynum added 20, and the Lakers beat slumping Charlotte, extending their home record to 11-2 and sending the Bobcats to their ninth consecutive defeat.

Warriors 93, Kings 90

In Oakland, Brandon Rush scored 15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to spark a late rally.

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