7:00 PM ET, April 15, 2002
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
Celtics forwards Rodney Rogers, right rear, and Paul Pierce battle for a rebound against Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett.
Pierce scored 31 points as the Boston Celtics held off a fourth quarter rally and beat the Timberwolves 93-90.
"I'm just a player that goes out hard every night," Pierce said. "The Wolves kind of beat me up at home this year. They played me real tough and physical and I really couldn't get off. I wanted to make the extra effort to come out here and play well tonight."
The Celtics still have a chance to secure homecourt advantage through the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston needs to win its last game at Atlanta, and Detroit must lose its remaining games against New Jersey and Milwaukee.
Regardless of the outcome, the Celtics like their chances.
"We just want to take advantage of the opportunity in front of us," Tony Battie said. "We're capable of doing whatever we want to do if we put our mind to it and play the type of basketball we played tonight."
After trailing for most of the game, Minnesota took advantage of Boston's cold fourth quarter shooting and used a 19-8 run over the last eight minutes to pull within 91-90.
But Wally Szczerbiak, who had been 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, missed both attempts after being fouled by Rodney Rodgers with 31.2 seconds remaining.
"I thought those two were in," Szczerbiak said. "I certainly will see them in my sleep tonight."
The Wolves got one more chance after getting the rebound off Szczerbiak's second miss. But Kevin Garnett, who shot 8-for-23 from the floor, missed his shot after faking Battie into the air.
Pierce hit two free throws on the other end to make it 93-90 and Garnett missed his final shot at the buzzer.
Garnett had 20 points to lead the Wolves, who can usually turn to Szczerbiak or Chauncey Billups when their star player has an off-night. But Billups shot a miserable 1-for-8 and spent more time than usual on the bench for reserve Robert Pack.
"(Antoine) Walker did a great job of forcing KG to shoot his fallaway jumper, which he usually hits, but tonight it was a little short," Battie said.
Then, there was Pierce.
Minnesota used a variety of defenders on Pierce, but to no avail. The 6-6 forward used his quick moves and superior athleticism to frustrate the Wolves on defense -- including a remarkable driving layup over two Minnesota defenders, drawing a foul in the process.
Pierce drove down the right side on a breakaway, shook off Szczerbiak, and then threw up a blind shot over Rasho Nesterovic that banked high off the glass and went in. Pierce even seemed amazed at the play, smiling as he walked to the free-throw line.
In another instance, the Wolves coaches yelled at Anthony Peeler to guard Pierce as he moved without the ball on another breakaway. Pierce, while smiling at Minnesota's bench, pointed down at Peeler, and then shook him off for an easy layup.
"We've been playing well the last couple of weeks and we just want to keep it going into the playoffs," he said.
The Celtics used a 13-for-17 performance from the field in the third quarter to take control of the game. The Wolves went 9 for 30 in the quarter.
The Celtics' physical defense frustrated the Wolves, as they swiped for every ball and clogged the lane with Pierce, Walker and Battie, who had an impressive blocked shot on Nesterovic, sending the ball into the scorer's table.
Pierce made Szczerbiak look silly on defense in the first half, scoring 10 straight points in a stretch during the first quarter on a variety of jumpers.
Wolves G Terrell Brandon sat on the bench with the team for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in February. ... Walker and Garnett are two of four players to be averaging at least 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists. ... Boston G Tony Delk returned after missing five games with a groin injury. Delk surpassed 800 career rebounds with three against the Wolves. ... The Wolves lost for the first time against an Atlantic Division team (6-1).
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||37-73 (.507)||33-89 (.371)|
|3PM-3PA||5-17 (.294)||5-18 (.278)|
|FTM-FTA||14-20 (.700)||19-28 (.679)|
|Fast Break Points||4||3|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||26 (1/2)||18 (1/0)|