Leon Powe and Tony Allen, members of the Celtics' 2008 championship team, returned to Boston on Wednesday night to help the Memphis Grizzlies win 90-87 and solidify their hold on the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
"When you can come on the road and beat a great team like that, and do it on the defensive end, it's huge for a young, up-and-coming team," said Powe, who scored 13 points. "That just adds to our confidence."
Marc Gasol scored 11 points with 11 rebounds and Zach Randolph had 13 and eight for Memphis, which improved to one-half game behind seventh-place New Orleans in the West. The Grizzlies remained two games ahead of ninth-place Houston, which beat Golden State later Wednesday.
Powe, who spent the first three years of his career in Boston, saw little action in Cleveland before the Cavaliers released him to sign with Memphis on March 5. He came off the bench to score 13 points in 17 minutes — his best game since signing with the Grizzlies.
"Leon Powe was the baddest man on the planet tonight," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It's not like they tricked us. They just drove through somebody and scored."
Allen spent the first six years of his career in Boston before signing with Memphis as a free agent last summer. He scored nine with five assists.
"They're both really tough, physical guys. They're veteran guys who have been to the mountaintop and won," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "This is our second year in a row coming in here and getting a win, so this is special. But I'm sure for those guys this is extra special."
Paul Pierce scored 22 for Boston, but he missed an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer that could have sent the game into overtime and the Celtics lost for the fifth time in nine games and fell one game behind Chicago (51-19) in the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Rajon Rondo had six points, seven steals, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, but he missed an ill-advised one-handed floater in the lane with 18 seconds left and Boston trailing 88-87.
"It's so easy to second-guess it now," said Rivers, who didn't call a timeout because he thought Rondo was going to pass it to Pierce. "I just think your best offensive player should always touch the ball on the last possession."
Memphis led 84-77 in the fourth quarter before Boston cut the deficit to one point, 86-85, with just over three minutes left on Pierce's 3-pointer. Gasol made it a three-point game before Glen "Big Baby" Davis made a jumper with 52 seconds left to cut the lead to one point.
Davis had a chance to put Boston ahead, but Gasol blocked it, and then Gasol stole a pass from Ray Allen with 80 seconds left before converting a layup to make it 88-85. Davis' jumper made it a one-point game again, then Rondo rebounded a Memphis miss and brought the ball the length of the court before floating up a one-handed shot that bounced off the back of the rim.
The Celtics sent Mike Conley to the line with 14 seconds left, and he made both free throws. Davis' 3-point attempt to tie it missed, but after Gasol was fouled he missed both free throws with 4.6 seconds left, giving Boston the ball and a chance to send the game into overtime.
Boston inbounded the ball to Pierce but he couldn't get off a clear shot.
"He is one of those prolific-type dudes," Tony Allen said. "He's hit shots like that in his career. He missed and we got the win."
After falling behind 36-26 in the second quarter, the Celtics scored eight straight points – including back-to-back 3-pointers from Allen- to make it a two-point game. It was 38-34 when Boston again scored eight in a row to take the lead before Memphis scored twice in the final minute to make it 45-44 at the half.
Powe and Tony Allen received a warm welcome from the crowd at introductions. … Ray Allen wore a bandage above his right eye. He received seven stitches after being elbowed by Jared Jeffries in Monday night's game against the New York Knicks. Allen and Pierce are the only Celtics to play in all 70 games this season. … The Grizzlies said on Tuesday that No. 2 scorer Rudy Gay would miss the rest of the season to have surgery on his partially dislocated left shoulder.