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Pierce Leads Boston To 104-96 Win

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SEATTLE (AP) _ Seattle rookie Kevin Durant found out what the rest of the NBA has discovered through two months of the season _ slowing down Boston's new Big Three isn't easy.

``It's hard to guard a three-headed monster like that,'' Durant said. ``(Kevin Garnett) in the lane knocking jump shots down, then kicking it out to Paul (Pierce) and Ray Allen, its tough.''

Durant got firsthand experience on Thursday night, watching Pierce take over in the second half, and leading the Celtics to a 104-96 victory over the pesky SuperSonics.

While most of the attention focused on the return of Allen to Seattle, it was Pierce who carried the load, scoring 26 of his season-high 37 points in the second half.

In the only other NBA games on Thursday, Cleveland beat Dallas 88-81 and Phoenix defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 108-88.

With Garnett unable to match his strong first half and Allen never finding an offensive groove, it was Pierce who made shot after shot in the second half to help the league's best team avoid an embarrassing loss.

``I was aggressive the whole game. I thought I missed some shots I normally make in the first half and I didn't get discouraged,'' Pierce said. ``I kept being aggressive and knew they were going to be able to come to me.''

Garnett scored 14 of his 23 points in the first half, and Allen added a mostly quiet 10, playing his first game in Seattle since a draft night trade that sent the seven-time All-Star to the Celtics.

Durant led Seattle with 25 points and Delonte West, part of the trade that brought Allen to Boston, added 19.

Despite Durant's best efforts, the rookie was overmatched late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when Pierce took off.

Pierce closed the third quarter on a tear and carried his hot hand into the fourth, finally allowing the Celtics to pull away. Pierce started the stretch by sending Wally Szczerbiak flailing past him with a ball fake, then hitting an open 3-pointer. On Boston's next possession, Pierce bulled over Durant on his way to an easy layup.

Eddie House scored Boston's first five points of the fourth quarter, then Pierce hit consecutive jumpers to give the Celtics a 79-72 lead. House came off a screen to hit a 22-footer as the shot clock expired and Pierce added another jumper and the Celtics lead was 11.

House and Pierce scored Boston's first 18 points of the fourth quarter, in just 5 minutes.

``Our bench really helped us tonight. That's big for us,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said.

Pierce hit 11 of 27 shots and 10 of 11 free throws to help the Celtics win their fourth straight and improve to 24-3. The 24 wins matches the Celtics win total from all of last season.

Allen was given two standing ovations before the game, as Seattle fans sold out KeyArena for one of the few times this season, and recognized Allen's efforts in his 4 1/2 seasons in a Sonics' uniform.

Allen missed his first two shots badly, missing long on a 15-foot bank shot 26 seconds in and then overshooting a 3-pointer a few minutes later.

Two cutting layups got Allen into the offense, but he made just four of 13 shots.

``Getting back in this building brings up a lot of memories, a lot of big games played in this building,'' Allen said.

Cavaliers 88, Mavericks 81

LeBron James had 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Cleveland, which through three quarters was shooting 36 percent, was 0-for-10 on 3-pointers and had missed 10 free throws _ yet led by six points. The Mavericks got within 81-79 with 4:43 left but James pretty much ended it with a thunderous dunk in the lane with 1:10 to go.

Dirk Nowitzki had 19 points and 20 rebounds and Josh Howard had 19 points for the Mavericks, who lost their second straight after winning five in a row. Dallas shot 36.5 percent with Jason Terry going 3-for-12 one night after going 0-for-10.

Suns 108, Clippers 88

Amare Stoudemire had 30 points and 15 rebounds and played stifling defense against Chris Kaman to lead Phoenix. Stoudemire scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds in the first half as the Suns opened a 59-40 lead. The lead was 36 points, the last time at 79-43 midway through the third quarter.

Corey Maggette, back in the lineup after missing a game with a sore right knee, had 21 points for the Clippers, who lost their fifth straight and 14th in 17 games. Kaman, held to two points on 1-for-11 shooting in the first half, finished with nine points on 4-for-17 shooting and nine rebounds to end his streak of 12 consecutive double-doubles.
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