BOSTON (AP) -- Vince Carter landed awkwardly, grimaced and leaned
on a table near the Celtics' bench. The game wasn't even 5 minutes
old and already New Jersey's playoff chances seemed to sink as he
limped to the locker room.
He knew better.
Less than 3 minutes after missing a layup and being kneed in the
left Achilles' tendon by Antoine Walker, Carter returned to help
the Nets earn the NBA's last playoff berth with a 102-93 win over
Boston on Wednesday night.
"I just wanted to add some drama," he joked, a smile in place
of the look of pain. "I knew I didn't do anything bad. I was just
He was very comfortable with his shooting in the second half
when he scored 24 of his 37 points. He even outscored the Celtics
15-8 in the third quarter and sparked the Nets' comeback from a
19-point, second-quarter deficit to the victory that gave them the
No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey and Cleveland, which beat Toronto, both finished at
42-40, but the Nets held the tiebreaker edge.
"It's a great feeling. We accomplished a lot," said Carter,
obtained from Toronto on Dec. 17. "My goal was just to come out
and lend a helping hand."
He did much more than that. The Nets were 32-24 with him and
10-16 without him. He led them in scoring in 16 of their last 19
games, averaging 32.5 points in those 16 contests.
"Vince has carried us since he's been here," New Jersey coach
Lawrence Frank said. "Vince, time after time after time,
The Nets will play at top-seeded Miami on Sunday. The Celtics,
who had already clinched the No. 3 seed, will and open their
first-round series at home Saturday night against Indiana.
"I thrive when the stage gets bigger and I'm definitely
ready," said Paul Pierce, who led Boston with 21 points. "It's
that time of the year, playoff time. There's no time like it."
The Nets will participate after winning a game that went the way
their season did -- a shaky start and a strong finish.
"This game sums up our whole season for us," said Jason Kidd,
who spent the first month of the season on the injured list. "We
were down but didn't fold the tent."
New Jersey had a huge 43-17 advantage in free throw attempts but
needed one final rally after the Celtics used an 8-0 run to close
to 96-93 with 1:16 left. The Nets scored the final six points, all
on free throws, then shook hands with Boston players and walked
calmly off the court.
New Jersey started the season with a 2-11 record but finished
with a 15-4 surge. Still, the Nets went into the final day of the
regular season competing with Cleveland for the last playoff spot.
As he did the previous night against the Cavaliers, Celtics
coach Doc Rivers did not use his best two players, Pierce and
Walker, in the fourth quarter. Two other starters who played
against Cleveland sat out against New Jersey -- Gary Payton with
lower back spasms and Raef LaFrentz with a groin injury.
"These two games really helped, in a strange way, with our
young guys," Rivers said. "We're ready for the playoffs."
"We've played enough in big games toward the end of the season
to win the division and lock things up and now it's time to roll,"
The Nets missed 10 of their first 11 shots and got an early
scare when Carter hobbled off the court with 7:29 left in the first
He didn't help for much of the rest of a half in which the
Celtics opened their biggest lead, 49-30, on Pierce's 3-pointer
5:07 before intermission.
The Nets cut that to 58-47 at halftime.
"Our halftime was kind of silent," Brian Scalabrine said.
"Coach got on us and explained the situation. He basically said
that we had 24 minutes for our life."
The Nets scored the first nine points of the third quarter,
cutting the lead to 58-56 on Carter's 3-pointer. Then they used an
8-0 spurt to go ahead 69-64 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
Carter's 9-foot turnaround broke a 64-64 tie and Scalabrine
followed with a 3-pointer.
New Jersey extended that run to 18-2, outscored the Celtics 32-8
in the third quarter and led 79-66.
Carter hit his last 3-pointer with 2:47 to go, then Boston made
its last run -- a three-point play by Al Jefferson, and baskets by
West and Justin Reed. But Kidd made a free throw to end that
comeback and finished the game with two more with 23 seconds
For a long stretch in the fourth quarter, Boston's lineup
was second-year forward Marcus Banks and rookies Jefferson, West,
Reed and Tony Allen. ... New Jersey was 15-26 in the first half of
the season and 27-14 in the second.