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Celtics 107, Wizards 96

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BOSTON - Brandon Bass scored eight points during a third quarter in which the Celtics shot 75 percent from the field, and Boston cruised to a 107-96 victory over the Washington Wizards Sunday night.

The win moved the Celtics 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee in the battle for seventh and eight places in the Eastern Conference. The No. 7 seed avoids a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat.

Bass (9-for-12) finished with 20 points and six rebounds, leading five Celtics in double figures as Boston improved to 40-37.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce returned to action Sunday after missing time with ankle woes.

Pierce, who had missed two of the last three games, first for the birth of his son and then with a tweaked ankle, logged 30 minutes and had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds.

Garnett, returning from an eight-game absence, played just 25 minutes and had 12 points and six rebounds.

The Celtics shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.

Boston led by 18 points early in the fourth quarter. Washington did get to within 10 points, forcing Boston coach Doc Rivers to send both Garnett and Pierce back into the game. Pierce nailed a 3-pointer and Garnett set up a Bass jumper to balloon the lead back to 15.

John Wall led the Wizards (29-48) with 16 points but was just 3-for-13 from the floor after scoring 10 points in the first quarter. Four other Wizards scored in double figures, and Emeka Okafor had eight points and nine rebounds.

Ahead by four at halftime, the Celtics went 12-for-16 from the floor and outscored the visitors 31-19 to take control of a game that was entertaining in the first half before deteriorating over the final 24 minutes.

Wall's 10 points, including a dazzling drive with five-tenths of a second remaining, had the Wizards within one at the end of the first quarter, but an 8-0 Boston run put the Celtics up by nine. Five late points by Okafor helped him team stay just four down at the half, but the Celtics took over early in the third quarter.

Up by one after a Nene's power slam brought the Wizards to within one 1:37 into the quarter, the Celtics went on a 14-1 run and the game was essentially over.

The Wizards went more than 5:40 between baskets and the Boston lead grew to 18 before Wall hit a runner at the buzzer.

After the first quarter, Wall didn't score again until his steal and slam with a minute left in the third.

NOTES: Celtics coach Doc Rivers confirmed before the game that all three of his injury question marks -- Garnett, Pierce and Avery Bradley (collarbone) -- would start. As far as how much they'd play, all the coach would say was, "I'll watch Kevin, I doubt if he plays his normal 30 minutes, so I'll watch him, but there's no limitations by any of the doctors or anything." ... The Wizards visit the sizzling New York Knicks on Tuesday, and the Celtics play host to Brooklyn on Wednesday night. ... The Wizards came in 24-19 since Wall returned (18-4 at home, where they have won nine straight). "He's playing terrific," Rivers of Wall, who had 37 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks in a win over Indiana on Saturday night. ... Weird thing on the scoreboard before the game: When the injury report went up, Leandro Barbosa (knee) was listed under the Wizards' injuries. Barbosa was lost to the Celtics for the season and his rights were dealt to Washington in the trade that brought Jordan Crawford to Boston. Before facing his former team, which he left after he was angered over not starting, Crawford said, "Who? I don't recall playing for Washington." Asked if he had something to prove to the Wizards, he said, "To who?" ... Pierce received the eighth Red Auerbach Award from the team before the game, the honor named for the deceased patriarch of the organization and going to the Celtic who represents the team well on and off the court.
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