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Rockets 93, Celtics 87

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BOSTON — The Houston Rockets don’t know how long they’ll be without injured big man Dwight Howard.

So far, his absence hasn’t been much of a problem.

Despite a nine-point third quarter, the Rockets won their fourth game in a row — Howard playing just 8 1/2 minutes in the first of the four — shaking off a Boston Celtics comeback bid and winning 93-87 on Friday night.

Down by as many as 19 points at one point and by 18 at the end of the third quarter, the Celtics, returning from a 3-3 trip west, got to within five in the third quarter, fell behind by 10 and then rallied again — and again.

They closed the deficit to three with 5:26 left. Both teams then went scoreless for more than two minutes before Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas followed guard James Harden’s 17th missed shot of the game with a slam to put the Rockets up by five.

The margin was down to three before Harden’s alley-oop pass was tipped in by Motiejunas, who finished with a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds.

Boston forward Jared Sullinger, who suffered through a 4-of-14 night from the floor, missed three 3-pointers in the closing minutes, two of them badly.

Still, the Celtics, down by seven with 4:43 left, managed to get it to three again with 27 seconds left. Forward Corey Brewer hit two free throws with 21.1 seconds left and Harden grabbed a rebound, was fouled and hit one at the line with 9.1 on the clock.

Harden, an MVP candidate, was 4 of 21 from the floor and 2 of 7 from 3-point range, scoring 14 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds.

Forward Josh Smith, who was with the Detroit Pistons the last time he was in town, came off the bench with 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets.

Guard Marcus Thornton, also coming off the bench, led the Boston charge, finishing with 17 points (4 of 6 on 3-pointers) and seven rebounds, and forward Brandon Bass led the starters with 17 points and eight boards.

Forward Tayshaun Prince, making his home debut with his new team, had 13 points and four rebounds off the bench.

Boston’s starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Evan Turner combined to go 5 of 22 from the floor, including 0 of 6 from 3-point range.

NOTES: With C Dwight Howard still out because of a knee problem, Houston coach Kevin McHale said before the game, “We won’t have Dwight for a while, I’m sure, so we’re going to just have to go out there and play.” … Celtics coach Brad Stevens, asked pregame about Rockets G James Harden, said, “I think he’s in the discussion of the super superstars. When you talk about a guy that you don’t want to see with the ball late in the game, he’s one.” … Celtics F Kelly Olynyk missed his fifth straight game with an ankle sprain. … McHale, the former Celtics great, said, “It’s nice to come back — come back in a snowstorm. The streets get smaller, baby, I’ll tell you that. It took the bus about an hour to get from Storrow Drive to our hotel. I was like, ‘I remember that.'” … The Rockets are at Detroit on Saturday night and the Celtics host the Miami Heat on Sunday, 5 1/2 hours before the Super Bowl kickoff.

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

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