Celtics blow big lead but fight back to top Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Even if Paul Pierce wasn't convinced he
could play against the Portland Trail Blazers, his teammates were.

Pierce, hampered by a groin strain, scored 36 points in the
Boston Celtics' 100-92 victory Thursday night.

Although doubtful before the game, Pierce hit a 360-degree dunk
during warmups and it was clear he could go.

"We knew he was going to play,'' said teammate Antoine Walker,
who had 19 points. "He looked like the best playing basketball
outside of Kobe Bryant. That was some Kobiness that he had tonight,
scoring in spurts, driving and shooting like he did tonight.''

The All-Star shooting guard, who injured his right groin against
Seattle on Tuesday night, scored 20 points in the first quarter

"I know I'm not going to do a 360 in a game, so if I can get
through that I know I can get through running it up and down,''
said Pierce, who described himself at about 90 percent.

The Celtics let a 20-point lead slip away in the second half but
recovered in the final two minutes to hold off the Blazers.

Boston maintained its lead until the fourth quarter, when
Rasheed Wallace made a pair of free throws to put the Blazers ahead

Although the Celtics briefly took the lead back on Walter
McCarty's jumper, Derek Anderson hit a 3-pointer and followed it up
with a fadeaway jumper to give the Blazers a 78-74 advantage.

Portland stretched that lead to seven points before Boston's
Eric Williams hit a pair of free throws to tie it at 92 with 1:57
left. After Bonzi Wells missed two foul shots, McCarty hit a
3-pointer to give the Celtics a 95-92 lead with 1:13 to go.

Walker hit another 3 with 37 seconds left to make it 98-92, and
the Blazers couldn't recover.

Wallace had 30 points and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who
have lost two straight after winning 22 of 27 heading into the
All-Star break.

"That was one of the toughest losses we've had,'' Trail Blazers
coach Maurice Cheeks said. "It looked like we had the game under
control, and then we made some bad decisions down the stretch.''

The Celtics won their second straight after a four-game losing

Pierce and the Celtics were so dominant in the first quarter
that a fan in the stands yelled to Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks:
"Is this on purpose?''

"I wish,'' Cheeks replied.

But Pierce got called for his third foul early in the second
quarter and sat down for the remainder of the half.

The Blazers took advantage of his absence, going on a 14-2 run
to open the second quarter and squeeze the margin to 41-37 on Zach
Randolph's hook shot with 6:42 to go before halftime.

The Celtics took a 51-43 lead into halftime.

The Blazers led 14-7 before McCarty, Pierce, J.R. Bremer and
Walker hit consecutive 3-pointers to start a 30-3 Celtics run.

Boston coach Jim O'Brien got two technicals and was ejected
after he angrily argued a foul call against Vin Baker early in the
fourth quarter.

"That was one of my all-time favorite wins,'' O'Brien said.
"It shows a lot of guts to come back like that.''

The Celtics snapped a four-game losing streak with an 82-76 win
over Seattle on Tuesday -- their first game of a six-game road

Game notes
Boston's Tony Battie did not play because of a bad case of
the flu. He also missed Tuesday's game against the SuperSonics
because of personal reasons. ... Pierce has started 251 straight
regular-season games. ... Wallace drew his sixth technical foul of
the season with 6:45 left in the third quarter. ... Oregon
basketball coach Ernie Kent was in attendance. ... Boston assistant
Lester Conner took over after O'Brien was ejected.