Pierce and Bradley Carry Celtics Past Magic, Clinch Fifth Straight Atlantic Title

Paul Pierce drives to the basket during Wednesday's Celtics-Magic game at the TD Garden. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Paul Pierce might be nearing the finish line of a career that will end in the Hall of Fame and a spot in the TD Garden rafters. But if these are Pierce’s last games, The Truth wants to go out in style.

Pierce scored a game-high 29 points and recorded a career-best 14 assists, carrying the Boston Celtics to a 102-98 victory over the Orlando Magic and their fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Avery Bradley backed up Pierce with 23 points, tying his career-high.

With home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs locked up, the short-handed Celtics can now focus on rest and recovery. Ray Allen hasn’t played in over a week, and Rajon Rondo sat Wednesday with a lower back injury.

Pierce Holds Back Magic in Fourth

Up 79-70 heading into the fourth quarter, Boston built their lead as high as 13, but a combination of outside shooting by Jameer Nelson (21 points, 3-for-6 from downtown) and dominating play inside (54 points in the paint, 17 offensive rebounds without Dwight Howard) kept Orlando in the game. Orlando cut Boston’s lead to 92-90 with three minutes left before Pierce drew a foul and sank one of two.

A Glen Davis (27 points) steal and sprint to the basket – how many times has that ever been written? – made it 98-96 Celtics, setting up the play of the game. Pierce – who split ball-handling duties with Bradley Wednesday – brought the ball to the three-point line, nearly slipping and losing control of the ball.

With the shot-clock winding down, Pierce regained control and penetrated to just outside the foul line, hitting a 17-foot step-back jumper with 7.6 seconds left in the game. He also sank two free throws in the final seconds to maintain the two-possession lead.

Stiemsma Keys Third-Quarter Run

The Celtics entered the final minutes of the third quarter holding a miniscule 71-70 lead, having failed repeatedly to secure defensive rebounds or challenge the Magic inside. The Celtics settled for too many one-and-done jump-shots, and their offense stagnated.

But when Greg Stiemsma blocked forward Earl Clark‘s jumper with 1:13 left, the Celtics regained the momentum that had helped them build an 11-point first-half lead. Pierce scored an and-1 bucket to push the Celtics’ lead back up to four, then Stiemsma blocked his second shot in 30 seconds. He finished with four blocks – more than the entire Magic team.

Brandon Bass (21 points) drew a foul on the ensuing possession and sank both free throws (the Celtics went 23-for-27 at the line Wednesday), then Stiemsma fought his way through traffic to secure a rare Celtics rebound on the other end.

Pierce then found Bass for a 20-footer, at which point Orlando’s emotions boiled over and Ryan Anderson – another player blocked by Stiemsma – earned a technical foul. Pierce sank it to give the Celtics a nine-point lead entering the fourth that the Magic never overcame.

Garnett Excellent From Outside, Pavlovic Awful From Everywhere

Much has been asked of Kevin Garnett this season, between the concentrated schedule and the lack of a true, NBA-ready center on the team. And while Garnett couldn’t hang with Davis from the post or push the Magic around beneath the basket, he still contributed 15 points Wednesday. His 6-for-15 shooting might’ve trailed the Celtics’ 54.3 percent shooting Wednesday, but his baskets all came at key moments.

Garnett’s alley-oop bucket from Pierce put the Celtics up 9-6 early in the first. He finished the opening quarter with back-to-back long-range two-pointers, both times benefiting from great ball movement and solid passing from Pierce.

The Celtics ended the first on a 10-2 run, with Garnett scoring four. He followed that up with two free throws to begin the Celtics’ second-quarter scoring, and in the fourth hit two mid-range jumpers to make it 83-71 Celtics.

Double-digit scoring nights from Garnett, Bass, Bradley and Pierce (who averaged 35.5 minutes apiece on the second night of a back-to-back) helped the Celtics overcome a useless start from Sasha Pavlovic. In 24 minutes sure to have Doc Rivers looking over Maine Red Claws stats, Pavlovic scored no points, turned the ball over twice and committed three fouls.

Pavlovic managed three rebounds and a block, but compare that to E’Twaun Moore and Marquis Daniels (who apparently is still alive): in 26 minutes between them, they scored nine, grabbed three boards, dished three assists and didn’t turn the ball over once.

Could someone please comment below and explain how Pavlovic still has a job? I know basketball pretty well, and I honestly have no idea.

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