BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett was out for the fifth straight game. Paul Pierce was recovering from the flu. And the rest of the Boston Celtics' starters just needed a little breather one day after a loss and a late-night flight back home.
"I was really trying to squeeze the game out of the bench today," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday night after the Boston subs played most of the fourth quarter in a 111-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I was really happy we could go that long with the bench in the fourth quarter," he added.
A night after losing by one point to Cleveland, the Celtics' starters sat out the fourth before coming back in with 49 seconds when the Clippers made it 107-100. Rajon Rondo hit a pair of free throws to give him a career-high 24 points, and Tony Allen sank a pair with four seconds left to clinch it.
Rondo also had eight assists and five rebounds, coming back from a bloody nose and a flagrant foul that knocked him to the floor to help the Celtics avoid a second straight loss. Ray Allen scored 19 and Paul Pierce had 15, with reserve Leon Powe adding 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"Toward the end, they had their second-stringers in there and we still had problems," said Clippers center Chris Kaman, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. "I mean, Rondo had 18 points in the first half and I don't know what he averages, but I know it's not that."
Boston plays Minnesota -- a.k.a. the Western Celtics -- on Friday, almost certainly without Garnett, the player obtained from the Timberwolves in the summer's blockbuster seven-for-one trade. So the rest will come in handy for a team that already has the NBA's best record (37-9).
"I don't know if I should have played yesterday, but I felt good today," said Pierce, who scored the game's first nine points. "I enjoy it any time that I get that kind of rest, especially on a back-to-back night, coming off the sickness."
Corey Maggette had 33 points and eight rebounds and sub Cuttino Mobley scored 16 for the Clippers, who beat the New York Knicks on Monday night to snap a nine-game road losing streak. Los Angeles played the second half without Sam Cassell, who was ejected after flattening Rondo late in the first half.
Rondo was dominating Cassell on the floor -- especially in the second quarter, when the Boston point guard scored 12 points. He stole the ball twice in a 60-second span, and that might have been going through Cassell's mind when Rondo drove to the basket with 2:54 left in the first half.
Cassell came in from the side and raked his forearm across Rondo's face, knocking him to the floor. Cassell was called for a flagrant foul, and after reviewing the videotape the officials ejected him.
It was an odd move for a player who was quoted in the morning's Boston Globe practically begging for his contract to be bought out so he could join the Celtics. If he can break free from his $6.15 million deal with the Clippers, the 38-year-old point guard might have to start off by apologizing to the guy he would be backing up.
The Clippers were already without Tim Thomas, who didn't play because of a sore lower back.
"It was a tough game for us. We lose Tim Thomas and then we lose Cassell," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We got it back to three to start the fourth, and then we made some mistakes."
Cassell left the locker room without commenting after the game.
"It was a frustration foul," Maggette said. "He's played too long in this league and there is no way he wanted to hurt him."
Rondo already had cotton stuffed in his right nostril to stop it from bleeding from contact on an earlier play. But he didn't show any ill effects on the floor.
"I got hit pretty hard, but it's part of the game," Rondo said.
- Brian Scalabrine, starting in place of Garnett, had just three points in eight minutes. But it was a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left in the first half that gave the Celtics a 55-44 lead -- his only shot of the game.
- Tony Allen scored 15 for Boston.
- The Celtics shot 53 percent from the floor.