HOUSTON (AP) _ Hakeem Olajuwon has Boston coach M.L. Carr's vote for MVP. He'd rather have a victory.

Olajuwon put up MVP numbers with a season-best _ and almost career-high _ 51 points, along with 14 rebounds, but that didn't stop the Celtics from beating the Houston Rockets 108-106 Thursday night.

Boston got 23 points from Dino Radja and clutch fourth-quarter shooting to end its three-game losing streak and snap the Rockets' three-game winning string.

``Our game plan was to let Hakeem do his thing and hopefully wear him down, and at the end we doubled him,'' Carr said. ``I was trying to help make him MVP again. He got my vote.''

Boston also took advantage of Houston's weakened lineup. It seemed more Rockets players were wearing suits on the bench than uniforms.

Robert Horry (right knee tendinitis) and Sam Cassell (shoulder) were on the sidelines with injuries and Mario Elie underwent surgery earlier Thursday to repair broken bones in his right wrist.

``They were a little short-handed with Horry, Cassell and Elie out, but our guys drove hard to the basket, and our defensive energy was very good,'' Carr said.

Dee Brown had 14 points coming off the bench, six in the fourth quarter, and Rick Fox finished with 16 points and nine assists. Greg Minor had only eight points, but six came on crucial fourth-quarter baskets.

``It certainly builds our confidence to win here,'' Carr said. ``It was a tough win for us. They have the heart of a champion _ you saw that. We were fortunate to pull it out.''

The Rockets faltered at the beginning of the game and fell behind 67-54 at halftime.

But they charged back in the third quarter. Olajuwon scored the first eight points of the period during a 12-0 start that cut Boston's lead to 67-66.

The Celtics answered the challenge and regained a 79-71 lead, but Houston got its first lead at 84-82 with 41.6 seconds left in the third period on Olajuwon's basket.

Playing shorthanded and competing until the final seconds made Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich feel almost victorious.

``I couldn't be more proud of this team the way they've performed the last two nights,'' Tomjanovich said. ``I can't believe how positive I feel after a loss.

``I don't know how many teams would have even had a chance to win this game. It really shows the heart of a champion.''

The Rockets had their chances. After Brown sank two free throws with 30 seconds to play that provided the final score, Eldridge Recasner missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left and Olajuwon missed a layup with 2.1 seconds to go.

Boston helped out by missing four free throws over the final 13.5 seconds.

``Having to catch up was the key,'' Recasner said. ``You never want to dig yourselves in a hole and then give the other team so much added confidence. I don't believe they came in here believing they were going to win this game.''

The Rockets did make a run, but they could never pull away. They took a 100-98 lead with 4:45 left, but the Celtics hit clutch outside shots before Brown's two free throws sealed it.

Olajuwon missed his career high of 52 points, but also got Tomjanovich's vote for MVP.

``What Hakeem did tonight was phenomenal,'' Tomjanovich said. ``In a back-to-back situation (Rockets played at Denver on Wednesday night) it makes it even more special. He really keeps himself in good physical condition.''