Rapid Reaction: Celtics 102, Magic 98
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Captain Paul Pierce played both distributor and scorer by producing game-highs with 29 points and 14 assists over 35 minutes, while Avery Bradley (23 points) and Brandon Bass (21 points) helped spark the Boston offense. Old friend Glen Davis scored a team-high 27 points for the Magic, who also got 21 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds from Jameer Nelson. Boston shot 54.3 percent from the floor overall (38-of-70) and, despite nearly letting the game get away in the fourth quarter, clinched the Atlantic Division title with the win. (The Celtics own the key tiebreakers over the New York Knicks.)
GIVING THE GAME WHAT IT NEEDS
Pierce handed out a career-high 14 assists, one night after dropping 43 points in a loss to the Knicks to become the first Celtics player to score 40-plus points during a regular-season game in the Big Three era. With Rajon Rondo getting a night off after falling hard on his back in New York, Pierce morphed into the role of point forward. He handed out eight first-quarter assists and had 11 helpers at the intermission -- all of which surely left him wondering what all the fuss is about with Rondo's 23-game streak with double-digit assists.
PIERCE HITS THE CLINCHER
When he wasn't dishing the ball around, Pierce hit a bunch of big shots. None was bigger than his step-back jumper over Davis with 7.6 seconds to go. The Magic had rallied from a double-digit hole to make it a two-point game in the final moments, but Pierce came off a high pick-and-roll with Garnett and rattled home the jumper to essentially seal it.
The Celtics were down a point with under three minutes to go in the third quarter, but scored 14 of the game's next 15 points, spanning into the fourth frame. Frustration boiled over for the Magic when Paul Pierce drove into Ryan Anderson before kicking it out to Brandon Bass for a 19-foot jumper. Anderson vented and earned a technical foul in the process, and Pierce made the freebie for a 79-70 lead after three quarters. The lead ballooned to 12 early in the fourth, only for Orlando to make the late charge that Boston fended off.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
As part of that game-clinching third-quarter run, Greg Stiemsma put his shot-blocking talents on display -- with Bill Russell and the 1962 championship team watching, no less. First Earl Clark tried to go up near the rim, only to have Stiemsma snuff it out while barely leaving his feet. Pierce took the rebound the opposite way and produced an old-fashioned three-point play. Anderson tried for a driving layup on the Magic's next trip down only to be denied by Stiemsma's fourth block of the night.
BIG BABY'S BIG NIGHT
After sitting out the Magic's last game against Philadelphia with a right knee ailment, Davis wasn't about to miss this Boston homecoming -- especially with a chance to shine without Dwight Howard on the floor. Big Baby scored Orlando's first six points and spearheaded the offense all night, making 12 of 16 shots for his 27 points. He added 7 rebounds and 3 assists over 35:14.
WHAT IT MEANS
Despite playing without Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus, the Celtics won the battle of short-handed teams (the Magic were without Howard and Hedo Turkoglu). It wasn't a particularly pretty fourth quarter, but the Celtics won yet another grind-it-out style game. The Celtics now have the division crown and the No. 4 seed in their pocket with three games to play. With Atlanta's triumph over Detroit, the Hawks are still a half-game up on Boston in the race for the better overall record and potential home-court advantage in a first-round matchup. Orlando slips a full game back of the Hawks while jockeying for the No. 5 seed, though the consolation prize isn't bad as many pundits see the third-seeded Pacers as potentially a less daunting opponent than playoff-experienced Boston. The Celtics get a day to rest before traveling to Atlanta for a potential first-round preview.
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