Paul Pierce nailed a vital jump shot in the closing seconds to ensure the Boston Celtics clinched the Atlantic Division title with a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Pierce made up for the absence of injured All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo by dishing out 14 assists, but his pull-up jumper with seven seconds remaining to give the Celtics a four-point lead was probably his most telling contribution.
Pierce added two free throws for the game’s final points, to finish with a game-high 29, as Boston (37-26) wrapped up the division and secured at least the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The New York Knicks, three-and-a-half games behind with four to play, could catch the Celtics in the standings, but Boston would still win the tie-breaker between the teams.
Orlando (36-26), sixth in the East, trailed by 13 with about seven minutes to go, but cut the deficit to 98-96 on a Glen Davis breakaway dunk with 31 seconds left.
Davis finished with 27 points and Jameer Nelson added 21 for Orlando, who were without the struggling Dwight Howard as he sat out the game with an ailing back.
Pierce, who erupted for 43 points one night earlier against the Knicks, carried the load and the Celtics also got 23 points from Avery Bradley along with 21 from Brandon Bass.
THUNDER 109, SUNS 97
In Phoenix, Arizona, Oklahoma City’s James Harden scored a career-high 40 points, including making five of eight three-pointers, to lead the Thunder to a 109-97 win over Phoenix on Wednesday that dealt a blow to the Suns’ playoff hopes.
Kevin Durant added 29 points for the Thunder, who stayed half a game behind San Antonio in the fight for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Phoenix’s loss, coupled with Utah’s’ victory over Portland, moved the Jazz half a game above of the Suns for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Jared Dudley scored 21 points for Phoenix.
CLIPPERS 104, NUGGETS 98
In Denver, Colorado, Kenyon Martin helped beat his old team with a tip-in and blocked shot in the final half-minute, leading Los Angeles past Denver.
Martin tipped in Chris Paul’s missed jumper with 27 seconds left and with the game tied, then blocked at the other end with 20 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Paul made two free throws to make it a four-point game.
The Nuggets got back within two with 16 seconds remaining, but Mo Williams replied with two free throws.
In other NBA play, it was:
‧ Mavericks 117, Rockets110
‧ Heat 96, Raptors 72
‧ Spurs 127, Kings 102
‧ Lakers 99, Warriors 87
‧ Bulls 100, Bobcats 68
‧ Jazz 112, Trails Blazers 91
‧ Hawks 116, Pistons 84
‧ Grizzlies 103, Hornets 91
‧ Knicks 104, Nets 95
‧ 76ers 103, Cavaliers 87
‧ Wizards 121, Bucks 112