BOSTON (AP)—Paul Pierce spent part of the week looking over the schedule, counting the missed opportunities that cost the Celtics a chance to repeat as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
There was a loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. Another to the Trail Blazers when Brandon Roy was out.
“There are five or six games you look at and go, ‘What would our record be if we had taken care of business?”’ Pierce said after Boston saw its slim chances of earning home court in the East evaporate despite a 105-98 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night. “Every game is big for us now. These last three games, I feel like we have to win them all.”
Pierce scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half, including the go-ahead free throws with 97 seconds left to help the Celtics earn their sixth straight win. But the Cavaliers’ victory over Philadelphia minutes earlier locked Boston out of the No. 1 seed; the Celtics are in Cleveland on Sunday in a game that will settle bragging rights, but little else.
“You’re playing the Cavs. They’re the best team in the East right now,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “So, yeah, I think both teams will be fired up. There’s no doubt.”
The Cavaliers’ victory helped Miami, which remained one game ahead of the 76ers for the No. 5 spot in the East. Boston took a two-game lead over Orlando— a loser to the Knicks later Friday—for the No. 2 seed despite playing without Kevin Garnett for the 19th time in 23 games.
Rajon Rondo had seven points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for Boston, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis scored 22 points with eight rebounds.
Dwyane Wade scored 21 of his 31 points in the second half, adding nine assists, to help the Heat tie it 95-all with just under 2 minutes left. But Boston scored the next eight points to pull away.
“They are the defending champions, and we played them as well as anybody,” said Michael Beasley, who scored 23 with 13 rebounds. “I think if we can play like that in the playoffs, we can make a push for it.”
Jermaine O’Neal had 16 points and nine boards for the Heat.
Boston led 79-72 to start the fourth quarter before Miami went on a 16-9 run and tied it on Wade’s back-to-back 3-pointers. The Heat briefly took the lead on a three-point play by James Jones, but Pierce hit a 3-pointer and the best Miami could do after that was tie it.
After O’Neal’s basket with 2:46 left, Pierce hit a pair of free throws, then Wade missed a jumper before Davis made a layup on a pass underneath from Kendrick Perkins to give the Celtics a cushion. O’Neal and Wade both missed jumpers in the final minute before Pierce hit two more free throws and Ray Allen made four. Jones’ 3-pointer in the last 10 seconds made it seem closer than it was.
It was 60-all with 7:39 left in the third when Boston scored 10 straight points, including 3-pointers from Allen and Pierce. Miami cut it to 83-82 with 6:39 left when Wade was fouled on a breakaway and hit the free throws.
Allen hit a long jumper that was originally called a 2-pointer, so it appeared that Wade tied it when he followed with a 3. But the referees checked the replay and saw Allen was beyond the arc, and what was a Heat lead on the scoreboard became a tie game, 88-all.
Allen was given the Red Auerbach Award before the game, for a player who best exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a Celtic. … Allen and Stephon Marbury left Thursday’s practice with a stomach virus. … Allen has hit 135 of 137 free throws since Dec. 28. … Heat F Udonis Haslem missed his third straight game with a lacerated right thumb. … Garnett is recovering from a strained right knee. … Marbury moved into 21st place on the career assist list, passing Reggie Theus and tying John Lucas. … Rondo snapped a streak of three straight games with 20 or more points.