BOSTON, March 13 (Ticker) -- Don't look now, but the Boston Celtics are making a run at the New Jersey Nets.

Paul Pierce scored 32 points and Antoine Walker added 30 as the Celtics inched closer to the Nets atop the Atlantic Division with a 97-89 victory, their season-high sixth straight triumph.

The surging Celtics (37-27) moved within three games of the Nets (40-24), who have lost five of their last six games. Boston closed the game with an 8-0 run after New Jersey had erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit.

"I think we made it very interesting," Walker said. "We've got to hope for a losing streak. We've got to continue to play well; there's a lot of things that have got to happen."

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Antoine Walker was hot early, scoring 21 of his 30 points in the first half.
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Two weeks ago, New Jersey appeared to have all but locked up the best record in the Eastern Conference. But an 0-4 West Coast trip, coupled with Boston's resurgence since its trade with the Phoenix Suns, have made it a race again.

"We're still the best in the East," Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "We're not hearing any footsteps. We're playing hard. The other teams have now stepped it up, too. We've got to find a way to turn up our energy level and play at the same level that these other teams are."

"I ain't got nothing to say about that, man," Nets forward Kenyon Martin said. "I'm worried about the New Jersey Nets, not the damn Boston Celtics."

Kidd had 23 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists for the Nets, who did not score in the final 1:50 after forging an 89-89 tie. That came on Kidd's basket, which capped an 18-9 run.

The teams traded empty possessions before Eric Williams buried a 3-pointer to give the Celtics the lead for good with just over a minute to play. Boston was an astounding 14-of-24 from the arc.

Kenny Anderson made a steal and hit an 18-footer, extending the lead to 94-89 with 50 seconds remaining. The Nets missed and Walker sealed it with a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left. After making the shot, he exhorted the FleetCenter crowd.

"Everybody standing in the fourth quarter -- that's playoff basketball," Pierce said. "I'd love to be a part of that every day. It was fun."

Pierce made 11-of-18 shots, including six 3-pointers. Walker made 10-of-21 shots, including four from the arc.

The Celtics matched their longest winning streak of the season, having also won six in a row from November 27-December 7. Their 37 wins are the most since the 1992-93 campaign.

"It's probably one of the biggest games for this organization in the last three or four years," said Walker, who was drafted in 1996. "I think I'm gonna play in bigger games. Right now, my goals are set much higher."

"This is the most wins I've had since I've been here and I want more," said Pierce, who was drafted in 1998. "I'm greedy -- I want to get more. I'd like to win the rest of our games."

Williams scored 12 points, Vitaly Potapenko grabbed 12 rebounds and Anderson handed out 10 assists for Boston, which shot 40 percent (34-of-85) and beat New Jersey for the second time in three meetings this season.

"I just love beating New Jersey," Anderson said. "I started my career out in New Jersey. So all my New Jersey people, all my New York people -- I know you're watching the game. We beat you all."

Keith Van Horn scored 15 points and Martin added 14 for the Nets, who shot 41 percent (30-of-73), including just 5-of-16 from the arc. New Jersey committed 20 turnovers.

"A loss is a loss, really," Martin said. "It does have a little more emphasis on it. We were four games coming in and we wanted to get it, but we didn't. Yeah, it's frustrating."

Pierce closed the third quarter with a layup and desperation 3-pointer, giving the Celtics a 74-69 lead. His 3-pointer capped an 11-2 burst, pushing the lead to 80-71 with 9:42 to go before the Nets rallied.

"We've got to do a much better job on the road winning games," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "It's gonna go down to the wire. Unless we can get five or six guys playing their best basketball, it's going to go down to the wire."

Walker scored 21 points in the first half, including a pair of free throws with five seconds left that gave Boston a 48-44 lead. Van Horn and Martin kept New Jersey in it with 12 and 10 points, respectively.