Saturday, March 21, 2009

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Kevin Garnett swished a few jumpers, dunked one basket and put in another. Playing for the first time in a month, the Boston big man looked healthy and was on a roll in a tight game.

But the Celtics took no chances.

Sticking to a plan of not overexerting Garnett in his first game back since injuring his knee Feb. 19, the Celtics beat the San Antonio Spurs 80-77 on Friday night with their All-Star forward on the bench during a down-to-the-wire finish in the fourth quarter.

Garnett, who scored 10 points in 15 minutes and hit his final five shots, figures to play again Saturday at Memphis. But coach Doc Rivers said he’s not going to push it while slowly building Garnett back into shape for the playoffs.

“I’m sure Doc will limit me again, which is understandable,” Garnett said. “I’m really going to get my timing back, and my wind.”

Despite Garnett’s much-anticipated return for Boston, he was an afterthought in the fourth when the Spurs missed six consecutive free throws in the final 2:32 to blow their chance of sweeping the season series from Boston.

Tony Parker scored 25 points but missed four foul shots in the final minute. The Spurs needed only two to tie the game.

“That happens. That’s basketball,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who scored 15 points and had nine rebounds. “You hate to point just at that one thing. We had great shots. We had guys we wanted on the free-throw line. Just one of those unfortunate nights.”

Most unfortunately for San Antonio is that the loss narrowed their grip on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference to just a half-game over Houston _ and the Rockets are coming to town Sunday.

Boston remains the No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, a game in front of Orlando and four back of Cleveland. The Celtics _ who went 7-6 without Garnett _ have 12 games left before the playoffs, including final meetings at Cleveland and Orlando.

Rajon Rondo had 16 points and 12 assists in the win over San Antonio, and Ray Allen had 19 points for the Celtics after missing Wednesday’s win over Miami with a right elbow strain.

Allen said that even though Garnett played sparingly, just having him on the bench had a huge impact for Boston.

“His voice hasn’t been around in a while,” Allen said. “So I think having his voice and having him on the bench helped us.”

Mavericks 94, Pacers 92

At Indianapolis, Dirk Nowitzki finished the game with a nifty stepback move, then hit a 20-footer with 1.1 seconds left.

The eight-time All-Star forward scored 17 points in the first half, then went just 3-of-11 from the field over the final 24 minutes.

Danny Granger had 18 points and 11 rebounds in his second start since returning from a foot injury for Indiana.

Rockets 107, Timberwolves 88

At Houston, Ron Artest scored 20 points, and Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer added 13 apiece.

Yao Ming scored 14 points, but missed 10 of his 16 shots. He also had eight rebounds before leaving for good late in the third quarter.

Craig Smith scored 19 and Kevin Love had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who’ve lost 16 of 19 since Al Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury on Feb. 8.

Nets 96, Heat 88

At East Rutherford, N.J., Vince Carter had 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and New Jersey spoiled the return of NBA leading scorer Dwyane Wade after a one-game absence.

Jarvis Hayes and Chris Douglas-Roberts each finished with 18 points to help the Nets win their second straight.

Wade had 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Michael Beasley added 17 points for the Heat.

Kings 121, Knicks 94

At New York, Kevin Martin scored 30 points and Beno Udrih had 20 and Sacramento finally beat an Eastern Conference team on its 29th try.

Nate Robinson scored 19 for the Knicks, who have lost three straight, including consecutive blowouts on their home floor.

Bobcats 102, Raptors 89

At Toronto, Gerald Wallace and Boris Diaw scored 30 points each for Charlotte, which moved one game behind Chicago for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.

Raymond Felton had 14 points and Wallace also had nine rebounds and eight assists to help the Bobcats win their third straight.

Chris Bosh scored 35 points and Andrea Bargnani added 27 for the Raptors, who have lost nine of their past 10.

Jazz 101, Thunder 94

At Oklahoma City, Deron Williams scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and added 11 assists for Utah, which lost Mehmet Okur in the first half.

Williams hit his first eight shots in the second half and directed a 16-6 run that gave the Jazz a 15-point lead that proved insurmountable.

Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook added 22 points.

Hornets 96, Grizzlies 84

At New Orleans, Chris Paul had 32 points and David West scored 29 to help New Orleans send Memphis to its third straight loss.

Rudy Gay had 23 points for the Grizzlies.

Pistons 108, Clippers 90

At Auburn Hills, Mich., Antonio McDyess scored 24 points and Tayshaun Prince had 23 points and 12 assists for short-handed Detroit. Will Bynum added a career-high 22 points for the Pistons, who were missing four of their top five scorers, and used just eight players most of the night.

Rookie Eric Gordon scored 22 points and Baron Davis added 19 for the Clippers, who have lost 13 straight against the Pistons.

Nuggets 116, Wizards 105

At Denver, J.R. Smith scored a season-high 40 points, Chris Andersen had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks and host Denver won its fifth straight.

Antawn Jamison had 27 points and Nick Young scored 20 for the depleted Wizards, who have lost three straight and five of their past six.

Warriors 119, 76ers 111

At Oakland, Calif., Brandan Wright scored a career-high 25 points, Monta Ellis added 21 and host Golden State got going.

Stephen Jackson had 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors.

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