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A turnaround win for Celtics?

03.14.12 at 4:23 am ET
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LOS ANGELES – The Celtics were surprised. Who were these guys in Clippers uniforms throwing elbows and getting in their face? Didn’t they know that the one thing they were afraid of was a track meet? But hey, if that’s how they wanted to play, the guys in green were more than happy to oblige.

“They came out and played out of their character a little bit,” Kevin Garnett said. “Tough and rough and whatever and whatever. We watched film a lot on these guys and that was totally uncharacteristic of how they play. They’re not known for bar-style. They’re more finesse and dunks and all that. We knew what it was. We’ve been in these types of games countless times and kept our composure for the most part.”

It was, as Paul Pierce said later, “Our kind of game.”

Monday night was a gut-check for the Celtics. After losing a game they felt like they should have won against their hated rivals, they knew they had to salvage a Staples Center split. But with a depleted frontline and facing their worst kind of game – a back-to-back on the road – against their least favorite kind of team – athletic and fast – the Celtics found themselves in a 95-84 victory.

“We’ve played two terrific games here,” Doc Rivers said. “We played a game Friday night, get on a plane Saturday and play a 1 p.m. game and then another game the next night and play well in both games. That says a lot about the character of the team right now.

“It would have been a total difference if we lost this game. We would have been looking at ourselves saying, ‘Man we’re right there and we can’t close them out.’ That last six minutes, that was huge for us. We needed this game.”

The script played out just as it had on Sunday. The Celtics trailed early, rallied in the second half and then began to falter later. But unlike Sunday, they made the plays defensively and executed down the stretch.

Brandon Bass spent the night in foul trouble, forcing Rivers to play Garnett more than he wanted. With no depth up front, they drafted Mickael Pietrus to play forward alongside Pierce, which left the swingman guarding Blake Griffin a handful of times. They were outrebounded 18-4 in the second quarter and 45-31 overall.

“Listen, we’re small. That’s just who we are right now,” Rivers said. “We just got to be a grind it out basketball team. All are games are going to be tough. There are going to be no easy games for a while. They’re all going to be difficult. We’re going to get outsized every night and somehow until we get another big body we’ll just have to figure it out.”

All of that made the final score extremely satisfying for a team that has been searching for its identity since December.

“We have to do it on a more consistent basis,” Pierce said. “Not just sometimes or in short bursts. This is how we got to be. This is our identity, especially on the road.”

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