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Celtics heat up after halftime, blitz Bucks

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MILWAUKEE — With two losses already this season to the Bucks and clinging to a slim halftime lead over Milwaukee, the Boston Celtics received a simple message from coach Brad Stevens: shoot the ball.

The message was received, as the Celtics made 23 of 40 shots after the break to seal a 102-86 victory Monday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“Milwaukee was really in the paint, and we’re going to have to step up and shoot it in to win,” Stevens said. “There was no reason not to let it fly, so the guys did and knocked down some shots.”

Forward Jeff Green led the way, scoring 19 second-half points on 8-of-11 shooting. He finished 11-for-22 from the floor for 29 points.

The Celtics held a 60-58 lead through three quarters, but Green scored the first two buckets of the fourth, and his 3-pointer with 8:06 left made it a 10-point game.

From there, the Celtics took off, leading by as many as 17, and they cruised to their fourth victory in the past five games.

“I think we just tightened up a little bit defensively, got a few key stops,” said Boston center Kelly Olynyk, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. “We pushed the ball in transition, got some easy baskets. Jeff Green hit a bunch of big-time shots for us down the stretch to stretch the lead.””

Green played a season-high 44 minutes. Over his past four games, Green is shooting 45 percent from the field and is averaging 25 points per game.

“He hit shots today that were really good shots, and then he made some tough ones late,” Stevens said. “He got himself going by getting to the basket and by shooting it off screens … He missed his first one of the third quarter and then really shot it well the rest of the night.”

Olynyk also finished with 11 rebounds, one of two Celtics to post a double-double. Center Jared Sullinger had 13 points and 10 boards.

“If they can defend and rebound together at the end of that game, it’s great to have them in there because they can make so many different basketball plays,” Stevens said. “They can handle the ball, they can do all kinds of things. It was good to see them both with double-doubles. I was pleased with how those two young guys played.”

Boston (19-34) capitalized on 21 Milwaukee turnovers, turning them into 32 points.

The Bucks committed only three turnovers in the final quarter, but after shooting just under 50 percent through the first three periods, they went 2-for-10 to start the fourth and shot 31 percent in the final quarter.

“That’s the disappointing thing about a game like this,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “(The Celtics) played last night, but they seemed to be playing with more energy than we did.”

Point guard Brandon Knight led the Bucks with 22 points. He also had five rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes of work.

“We went flat,” Knight said. “Our energy went down, and they took advantage of that.”

Milwaukee forward John Henson made his third straight start and finished with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He also blocked two shots, both in the first quarter. Henson has at least one block in each of his last 18 games, the longest active streak in the NBA.

The Bucks lost their third straight game and fell for the ninth time in the past 11. Now a league-worst 9-42 on the season, they are guaranteed a losing record for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

NOTES: After playing a season-high 37 minutes Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks, Celtics PG Rajon Rando did not travel with the team to Milwaukee. However, he could start playing the second game of back-to-backs in the near future as he works his way back from knee surgery, according to coach Brad Stevens. SG Avery Bradley was also unavailable and will undergo an MRI on his sore right ankle Tuesday. … Bucks C Larry Sanders suffered a broken bone near his eye will be out through All-Star break, according to coach Larry Drew. Sanders played just four minutes Saturday before taking a elbow from Houston Rockets G James Harden. Limited to just 23 games this season due to injuries and illness, Sanders is averaging 7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds this season but averaged 13.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in four games before his latest injury.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

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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.

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Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle

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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.

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NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

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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.

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