Paul Pierce and his backup band were enough to finish off a Sixers team that still has something to play for.
Pierce hit the winning jumper, scored 31 points and hindered Philadelphia’s shot at the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed in Boston’s 100-98 win over the Sixers on Tuesday night.
“We should have won the game,” Sixers guard Andre Iguodala said. “They used a second unit for the majority of the game.”
Tony Allen and Leon Powe were pressed into service and combined for 28 points, and the Celtics’ bench also outscored Philadelphia’s reserves. Boston’s subs were needed because Garnett missed the meaningless game for Boston to rest his strained knee and Allen served a one-game suspension.
Pierce made seven 3-pointers to overcome the absence of the two All-Stars, which had to make the Sixers wonder how they could win a first-round series against a loaded and focused Celtics team.
“We needed some scoring and I was trying to score the ball more tonight,” Pierce said.
The Celtics already had the second seed in the East locked up and could face the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs. The Sixers, though, could move up a spot to sixth and play Orlando if they win Wednesday night in Cleveland and the Raptors beat Chicago.
The Cavaliers, however, are 39-1 at home and are attempting to match the best home record in NBA history. The Sixers are only 16-24 on the road and have lost six straight games.
Iguodala led the Sixers with 25 points and Thaddeus Young had 18.
“We’ve got to be ready to play no matter who we play in the playoffs,” Iguodala said. “If we don’t play at a high level, we’ll be going home.”
Young returned after missing seven games with an ankle injury and showed he was back in full form when he used a spin move in the paint for a quick basket to open the game. The rest of the Sixers still have some work to do.
Even with Allen and Garnett out, and Pierce on the bench most of the fourth period, the Celtics rallied from an 11-point hole to take the lead late in the quarter. The lead flip-flopped over several possessions until Pierce buried a step-back 17-footer to make it 99-98 with 2 minutes left.
Young missed one of two free throws, then misfired a 3-pointer that could have put the Sixers up and bolstered their shot for the sixth seed.
With one last attempt for the win, Iguodala tried to drive past Pierce and tossed up a floater in traffic that went nowhere.
“Paul defended that pretty good, then Andre had to come up to get it, so they took us out of where we wanted to do that,” Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said.
Tony Allen scored 18 points in his first start of the year for the Celtics. Glen Davis had 15 points.
Allen was suspended one game without pay for elbowing Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao in the groin. Allen likely would have sat out the Sixers game anyway, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said it was doubtful Allen or Pierce would play in Wednesday’s finale against Washington.
The Sixers will open in Orlando or Boston and will have a tough road either way. Still, watching Boston’s reserves grab the lead from Philly’s starters can’t be much of a confidence boost if they meet again next week.
The Sixers went on a 22-5 run in the first half and led 58-50 at the break.
The Celtics chipped away and Stephon Marbury’s first shot of the game was a 3-pointer midway through the fourth that pulled the Celtics within three.
Marbury scooped a loose ball rebound and went the length of the court before dishing to Mikki Moore for a layup that made it 84-83. Allen converted the three-point play to give the Celtics an 86-84 lead with 9:20 left and they never trailed by more than four again.
“I thought our bench was fantastic tonight,” Rivers said. “That’s the group that’s going to win you games in the playoffs. To get them ready is important.” ^Notes: The 76ers held a moment of silence for longtime Phillies’ TV and radio broadcaster Harry Kalas. Kalas died Monday. … Moore and Rivers were each whistled for technicals on separate plays in the second quarter. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins each got one in the third. They got hit for technical No. 5 in the fourth period, this one on assistant coach Armond Hill. … Marbury hopes he’d be back with the Celtics next year. “If they want me, I’ll be here,” he said. … Sixers forward Marreese Speights thanked the fans for their support this year before the home finale.