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Celtics keep slim hope of edging Pistons

4/17/2002

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves couldn't find an
answer to Paul Pierce.

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.

Game notes
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).