Nets hang on to beat Celtics, win 17th of 20

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Their big lead was gone, and the
New Jersey Nets had Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson
on the bench in the closing seconds.

It felt like preseason basketball in April.

"It was a little weird," Nets center Nenad Krstic said. "It
was just like a preseason game."

Krstic scored 18 points to pace a balanced attack, Jefferson
added 15, and the Nets held on for a 95-93 victory over the Boston
Celtics on Sunday night.

"I would never disrespect the other team and say it was a
preseason game, but there certainly was a change in the feeling of
the game," Jefferson said. "We understand what's at stake."

The win was the 17th in the last 20 games for the surging Nets
(49-31), who have already clinched the Atlantic Division title and
the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs. Their
first-round opponent has yet to be determined.

Vince Carter added 13 points -- 11 below his season average -- and
reserve guard Zoran Planinic also had a season-high 13. With
nothing really at stake, Nets coach Lawrence Frank played his bench
over the final six minutes.

"Of course, you want to win the game," Frank said. "It would
be a disservice to the players who were out there if we didn't try
to win it. But we've earned the right to play this way. Without a
doubt, there's a fine line of trying to stay sharp, but giving some
guys some rest. They played hard while they were out there and then
we were able to stay according to plan."

The Celtics (32-48), playing without All-Star guard Paul Pierce,
have lost four straight and five of six. They were paced by rookie
Gerald Green, who had 19 points, and Kendrick Perkins, who added 16
points and nine rebounds.

Pierce had bursitis in his left elbow. Rookie Ryan Gomes had 15
points and Brian Scalabrine had a season-high 14 points off the
bench against his former teammates.

"It was an interesting game, I'll say that," Celtics coach Doc
Rivers said. "I was really happy besides the ending. I was just
really proud of our young guys. They just kept fighting. I
obviously thought we had a chance to win the game. I just wanted to
teach execution to the young guys."

Trailing most of the game, the Celtics drew within 94-93 with 6
seconds left on a driving layup by Green. Jacque Vaughn hit one
free throw a second later and Orien Greene fell down with 2 seconds
left, not allowing the Celtics the opportunity to even attempt a
game-tying shot.

"We got the key stop when we needed it," Frank said. "Zoran
gave some good pressure and got Orien Greene to fumble the ball so
he couldn't get a shot up. I think your competitive nature always
takes over, but there was nothing I was going to do to send Vince,
Jason or Richard back out there."

Despite a sluggish performance, the Nets took control midway
through the first quarter, going on a 12-0 run to take a
double-digit lead. Carter and Clifford Robinson each scored five
points in the run, giving the Nets a 25-15 lead with 2:53 remaining
in the period.

The Celtics fell behind by 14 in the second period, then played
inspired ball over the final 6 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers in
the final minutes of the first half. They pulled within three
points before Krstic's running jumper gave the Nets a 53-48
halftime lead.

Krstic had 12 and Jefferson had 10 in the first half to lead New

Green, who was playing with the Florida Flame in the
Developmental League last month, had 13 points at halftime. The
20-year-old Green has been receiving increased playing time of late
and came into the game averaging 15.5 points per game over the last
five contests.

The Nets built the lead back to 12 in the third and took a 74-70
advantage into the final period. The Celtics cut the lead to 76-74
with 10:58 left on two free throws by Green, but the Nets' reserve
backcourt of Planinic and Jacque Vaughn combined to score eight
points in a four-minute stretch, pushing the lead back to 86-78.

Game notes
Frank used the bench early and often, playing 10 players,
with little-used Bostjan Nachbar getting eight minutes of action in
the second quarter. Scott Padgett was the only Net to dress who
didn't see action in the first half. Carter needs 15 points to set
a new Nets single-season scoring record. Bernard King had 1,909
points in 1977-78. The Nets have two regular-season games remaining
at Philadelphia (Tuesday) and at home against the Knicks
(Wednesday). ... The Nets need one victory for only the second
50-win season in their NBA history. The team record is 52 wins set
in 2001-02. They won 50-plus games three times during their
nine-year ABA tenure.