Pierce leads Celtics to fifth straight division crown

Boston 102, Orlando 98

After failing to clinch the Atlantic Division last night in New York, the Celtics were able to seal the deal at home with a 102-98 victory over possible first round playoff foe Orlando.

News hit just before game time that Boston would be severely short-handed at the guard position tonight. There would be no Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus or Rajon Rondo for the Cs.

Paul Pierce knew his team needed to wrap up the four-seed tonight and not let it linger, giving the Knicks and 76ers hope.

The telltale moment came late in the third quarter. Things were getting hectic, but the calming presence of Pierce prevailed. The captain slowly took Quentin Richardson off the dribble, absorbed the contact of the help defender and dropped the ball off to Brandon Bass for a wide open jumper. Bass hit the shot, giving Pierce his career-high 14th assist of the game and the Celtics an eight point lead.

The help defender, Ryan Anderson was whistled for a technical foul and in the ensuing moments, Pierce waved his arms getting the Garden crowd going before sinking the free throw extending the lead to nine before the fourth got underway.

Orlando wouldn't go away though, cutting it to just two with three minutes to go on a Jameer Nelson layup. A Pierce jumper and Bass put-back extended the lead again but not for long.
Down by four with under a minute to go, Glen "Big Baby" Davis swiped an Avery Bradley pass and dunked on the fast break making it 98-96.

Once again it was Pierce who forced down an elbow jumper pushing the lead to four. The Captain then patiently iced the game with two from the charity stripe. He followed up his 43-point outburst against the Knicks with a different kind of game. Yes, the scoring was still there with a game-high 29 points, but the game management he showed in Rondo's absence was fantastic.

Big Baby made his second return to Boston since being traded to Orlando last Fall. Baby had it going on early too with a 12-point first quarter on his way to a team-high 27 points on 12-16 shooting.

With three significant players missing from the rotation, the Celtics bench was nearing it's end. However the unit that produced just two points against New York hit some timely shots down the stretch and Greg Stiemsma tallied another four blocks.

Avery Bradley remained scorching hot, putting up 23 points on 10-14 shooting. Brandon Bass also registered 21 points.

Allen continues to nurse an ankle injury while Pietrus' knee experienced some swelling prior to game time. Rondo had a hard fall last night and rested his sore back. Also MIA tonight from the Magic were Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.

Boston improves to 37-26 on the year and moved one step closer to home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They travel to Atlanta tomorrow for a crucial game on Friday night. Atlanta remains a half game ahead of Boston.