Boston (45-24) at Utah (45-25)

Light Rain Currently: Salt Lake City, UT
Temp: 61° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EDT Mon Mar 22, 2010
  • TV: CSNE, FSUT
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Boston Celtics are closing in on a third straight Atlantic Division title thanks mainly to their defense. A resurgent Paul Pierce(notes) also has helped.

Pierce and the Celtics look to win their fifth straight Monday night when they complete a three-game road trip against the Utah Jazz.

Another division title is all but a foregone conclusion for Boston (45-24), which has a 10-game lead over Toronto with 13 games remaining. The Celtics have looked particularly strong this month, winning nine of 12, including the last four by an average of 13.5 points.

The Celtics are coming off a 102-93 win over Southwest Division-leading Dallas on Saturday. Pierce scored 29 points while Rajon Rondo(notes) added 20 and 10 rebounds. They trailed early in the fourth quarter, but Rondo scored on three straight possessions and Pierce hit a 3-pointer to give Boston a 97-93 lead with 1:44 remaining.

“It’s a good win,” coach Doc Rivers said. “Our starters were the key today. They played terrific. Our execution down the stretch our last three or four games has been unbelievable.”

Boston, which has one of the top scoring defenses in the NBA, yielding 94.1 points per game, has held eight of its last 11 opponents under 100 points.

The Celtics were in top form defensively in a 105-86 win over the Jazz on Nov. 11. No Utah player scored more than 13 points in that game and the Jazz went 0 for 10 from 3-point range.

Pierce will look to stay hot after going 10 of 17 from the floor against the Mavericks. Averaging 18.1 points this season, Pierce has averaged 28.0 over the last three games.

“He’s starting to get his confidence,” Rivers said. “I thought he was looking to pass too much, which I don’t think I’ve ever had to say that to Paul, and told him to just be who you are, and he was that.”

While the Celtics have a commanding lead in the Atlantic, Utah (45-25) trails Denver by two games in the Northwest Division.

The Jazz have won three of their last four and seven of 10. They bounced back from a 10-point loss at Phoenix on Friday, returning home to defeat New Orleans 106-86 the next night.

Six players scored in double figures, led by Paul Millsap(notes), who finished with 22 points. Deron Williams(notes) added 17 points and 11 assists and Utah’s starters got plenty of rest in the second half with the game well in hand. The Jazz never trailed and led by as many as 35 points.

“We shared the ball well, and our guys got out and ran,” Millsap said. “You need to move the ball around, that is what makes our team what it is. Guys aren’t selfish, and they make the extra pass. When you do that you get the win.”

The rest was especially important given the extra burden Utah’s starters have taken on because of injuries. Andrei Kirilenko(notes) sat out a second straight game and for the fourth time in five with a strained left calf while Mehmet Okur(notes) stayed home with a stomach illness. It’s uncertain whether either will be able to play Monday.

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Monday, Mar 22