Clippers 98, Celtics 81

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BOSTON (AP)—Sam Cassell did what the Boston Celtics haven’t been doing: He made big shots down the stretch of a close game.

With consecutive 3-pointers, Cassell sparked the Los Angeles Clippers to a 98-81 win Friday night in which they finished with a 19-3 run after leading by just one point.

“I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do,” said Cassell, who scored 23 points. “Since I was a rookie I was groomed to make shots down the stretch.”

He played his first season on Houston’s NBA championship team in 1993-94, and his addition after two years with Minnesota is a big reason Los Angeles (27-17) is 10 games over .500 for the first time since 1991-92.

After 12 consecutive losing seasons, the Clippers won for the seventh time in eight games and improved to 11-10 on the road, surpassing their total of 10 road wins in each of the last two seasons.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” said Elton Brand, who had six of his 30 points in the game-ending surge. “That we can go on the road and win those tough, tight games shows a lot about our character.”

The Celtics lost their fourth straight game and their failure to come through down the stretch shows a lot about their youthfulness.

Just two days earlier, they cut a 21-point halftime deficit to 80-78 but lost 102-94 to Phoenix, the only team ahead of the Clippers in the Pacific Division.

On Friday, Boston whittled a 57-46 deficit down to 79-78 with 5:29 remaining but scored only three points after that.

“We understand how to fight and crawl back,” Delonte West said, “but we don’t understand how to go for the kill.”

The Celtics were led by Wally Szczerbiak and Paul Pierce with 18 points. Szczerbiak also tied his career high of 10 assists.

“I’ve never played in an offense like this where I have the ball so much and create for other people,” Szczerbiak said after his fifth game since being traded by Minnesota. “This is fun.”

He dislocated his left ring finger with 5:43 left in the third quarter but returned just over a minute later. He expects it to be sore for Saturday night’s game at Orlando but said “it didn’t affect me much.”

Forward Al Jefferson sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and is expected to be sidelined through the All-Star game on Feb. 19.

Szczerbiak’s layup cut the Clippers’ lead to 79-78. Then Brand, who has at least 30 points in four of his last five games, hit an 11-foot jumper to start a 12-0 spurt and Cassell followed with consecutive 3-pointers, making it 87-78.

“When Sam hit that first shot, it scared them a little bit,” Cuttino Mobley said. “When he hit another, it froze them.”

Brand then made two more jumpers for a 91-78 lead before Pierce scored the Celtics’ last points on a layup and free throw with 2:04 left.

“I just don’t think we showed a sense of urgency we need down the stretch,” Pierce said. “That’s what good teams do.”

The Celtics played most of the game without Jefferson, who didn’t return after hurting his ankle when he jumped for a rebound and landed on the left heel of Chris Wilcox with 8:54 left in the second quarter.

Jefferson pounded the floor and stayed down several minutes before being helped to the locker room by rookie teammates Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green. Jefferson finished with two points and six rebounds in six minutes.

Trailing 53-46 at halftime, the Celtics tied the game at 59 on a 10-footer in the lane by Pierce that ended a 9-0 run.

The Clippers regained control and took their biggest lead of the game to that point, 73-62, on Cassell’s 21-foot jumper with 2:26 left in the third quarter.


The Celtics recalled G Gerald Green from the NBA Development League. … Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona attended the game. … Pierce and Allen Iverson are the only players to score at least 15 points in all their games this season. … The Clippers hit 54 percent of their shots, the fifth straight time they sank more than 50 percent.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 LA Clippers
E. Brand E. Brand
12-19,  30 Pts
11 Rebs, 4 Assists
W. Szczerbiak W. Szczerbiak
8-17,  18 Pts
8 Rebs, 10 Assists

Team Stat Leaders