Don't write off Celtics yet

LOS ANGELES -- The Boston Celtics have long contended that it's not always the final result that matters, it's how they grow as a team during each individual game.

That strategy got tossed on the back-burner after the team dropped 13 of its last 22 games before the All-Star break. Style points simply don't matter right now. The Celtics just want the W, and if they happen to look good doing it, that's a bonus.

Beauty was in the eye of the beholder Thursday night at the Staples Center as Boston's defense limited the Los Angeles Lakers to a single bucket in the final 7:13 and escape with an 87-86 triumph.

Go ahead and tag the game with an asterisk because Kobe Bryant didn't play. Feel free to point out that the final seven minutes featured the sort of offense typically reserved for a high school jayvee game.

The Celtics gladly accept the win and head to Portland feeling good about themselves after opening the second half of the season with back-to-back victories to start a four-game western road trip.

"I don't know if it was good defense by both teams or horrendous offense, I'm not sure" joked Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose team generated only three field goals over the final 10:22.

"I actually thought it was great defense. It's funny, people complain sometimes when it's a low-scoring NBA game, and they never give those guys credit for playing so hard. I thought both teams played hard. I thought they were physical and both teams made it very difficult to get a good shot off."

The teams combined to shoot 30.2 percent (13-of-43) in the fourth quarter and the Lakers made just one of their final 11 shots. With a chance to take the lead, Los Angeles misfired on its final three shots in the last 2:24.

"Defensively, we're trying to get back in a rhythm and you can sort of see it starting to come, slowly but surely," Kevin Garnett said. "I thought tonight, that was energy, everything we asked for was there. I can't keep it going enough. Stay consistent, stay consistent. I thought the energy was there. We didn't shoot the ball the way we probably wanted to, but you can start to see the confidence coming back [on defense].

"I thought we did a real good job in the second half. We put that swagger out, our confidence. You can see it on the bench. The look in each other's faces, the look in the eyes. You see it. You can feel it. We're not hitting shots, but we're not going to let them hit any shots, too. Let's buckle down and get some stops."

Before a putrid fourth quarter (5-of-21, 23.8 percent), the Celtics were actually shooting better than 50 percent for the game. All five starters ended up in double figures, paced by a game-high 24 points from Ray Allen, who seemed buoyed by the weight of trade rumors being lifted from his shoulders with the NBA trade deadline passing earlier in the day.

"I thought, offensively, we moved the ball," Allen said. "For me, I just tried to be patient and settle in. Just allow my body to kind of ease its way into the game and not force any action. Let it come my way."

For certain, there's much to improve upon for the Celtics. But if this type of win was unacceptable when the team was at its peak in early December, it's perfectly fine at this point of the season.

Which is why it doesn't matter that the bench, so sharp the past two games, came out flat on Thursday. Boston won't spend much time worrying about Marquis Daniels' minus-19 in the plus/minus category.

The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak against the Lakers and got the defining win that has escaped them in recent weeks against the likes of the Magic, Hawks and Mavericks.

Beggars simply can't be choosers.

"It's always nice to win on the road," Rivers said. "Like I said, I'll take the win. It's the second win in a row on the West Coast trip and we have two games left. I thought our team played with unbelievable spirit to start the game. For the first time in a while, our bench came in and gave up a lead. They have been playing great for us, but they struggled tonight.

"But I still like the win."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.