NEW YORK — Soreness in his left thumb prevented Boston Celtics point guard Avery Bradley from dribbling effectively.
Every time Bradley released a shot, he did his best not to think about the soreness on his non-shooting hand.
It probably helped that most of his shots went in on Tuesday.
Bradley made his first seven shots and scored 26 points, leading the Boston Celtics to a wire-to-wire 108-97 victory over the New York Knicks.
Bradley shot 11-of-14 while playing with a left sleeve on his thumb that team trainers gave him after he had X-rays on the thumb in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat. Bradley has been playing with it ended that game by missing four of five shots in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t really dribble with my left (thumb) with how it’s taped,” Bradley said. “It’s kind of hard for me to but I wasn’t trying to think about it — just go out and play. Because if I’m thinking about it, it’s going to stop me from being aggressive.”
Against the Knicks, it was a different story.
Before he missed, Bradley knocked down two 3-pointers, had a layup and three other jumpers and even his first miss indirectly led to points for the Celtics.
That was when Bradley missed wildly on a dunk attempt with 6:39 remaining in the third quarter. Three seconds later, center Brandon Bass grabbed the rebound and knocked down a jumper for a 67-55 lead.
“Obviously it didn’t affect his shot today,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “He was smoking from everywhere. He had the best pass I ever seen when he missed that dunk and it went right to Bass. He’s going to play through some of that stuff. He’s sore, he’s got some pain and I commend him for the effort that he gives. He wants to play and it takes a lot for him to sit out.”
The Celtics led by double digits most of the way after opening the game with a 14-2 lead. They were briefly threatened in the fourth while Bradley rested but each time it seemed the Knicks had momentum, forward Jared Sullinger had an answer offensively.
“They set the tone from the beginning of the game,” New York forward Carmelo Anthony said. “They got in the passing lanes and were aggressive on the defensive end and they played off of that.”
Sullinger scored eight of his 22 in the fourth quarter and spent most of the night exploiting his matchup with New York forward Lou Amundson. His biggest shot of the night came with 7:50 remaining when he responded to a layup by New York guard Shane Larkin with a layup of his own for an 88-82 lead.
A little under two minutes later, Sullinger knocked down a mid-range fadeaway for a 92-82 lead. Bradley put the finishing touches on Boston’s 17th win with a 19-footer, a 22-footer and a 3-pointer in the final minute.
Bradley and Sullinger led five players in double figures for Boston, which nearly matched its season high and shot 54.5 percent. Rookie guard Marcus Smart and reserve forward Jae Crowder added 13 apiece while Bass contributed 12.
“We came out with energy right out the gate,” Smart said. “That is what we have been lacking.”
While Bradley and Sullinger formed an effective offensive tandem for the Celtics, the Knicks had a four-game home winning streak stopped and never could get any key defensive stops when Boston made 12-of-18 shots.
Anthony struggled at the start, missing seven of his first 10 shots and scored 21 points on 9-of-23 shooting. Point guard Jose Calderon added 17 for New York, which actually shot 48 percent despite being down 12 in the opening minutes.
NOTES: New York F Amar’e Stoudemire missed his fourth straight game with a sprained left ankle though coach Derek Fisher was hopeful of a return this weekend. … In a New York Times story, team president Phil Jackson labeled his first season being an executive as “an experiment that has fallen flat on its face.”Asked about it before the game, Fisher said: “I think leaders aren’t afraid to step out in front of it and that’s what he did. It stops with him but I’ll tell you guys the same thing it stops with me. Hopefully we’ll have more guys in our locker room that will tell you it stops with them. I’m not surprised that he’s doing what leaders do and that’s taking the responsibility for this group.” … Boston G Marcus Smart made his fourth start of the season but coach Brad Stevens said it was more about finding a group that played well together. … Stevens also lauded the improvement of rookie swingman James Young in the weight room, practices and during individual sessions. … “He’s really improved,” Stevens said. “The biggest thing for him and I’ll be the first to tell you, it’s more of a shock to his system than he thought but he really has stayed the course.”
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.