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Brand drops 30 as Clippers cruise past anemic Celtics

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.

Game Notes
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.