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Garnett returns to lift Celtics

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 on February 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 today 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."

In other National Basketball Association games, it was: Rockets 107, Timberwolves 88; Mavericks 94, Pacers 92; Nets 96, Heat 88; Kings 121, Knicks 94; Bobcats 102, Raptors 89; Jazz 101, Thunder 94; Hornets 96, Grizzlies 84; Pistons 108, Clippers 90; Nuggets 116, Wizards 105; and Warriors 119, 76ers 111.

In San Antonio, Texas, 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 tomorrow.

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."

In Houston, Ron Artest scored 20 points, and Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer added 13 apiece in Houston's win over Minnesota.

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.


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