EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 7 (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce returned just in time to postpone a party planned by the New Jersey Nets.

Pierce ignored foul trouble to score 15 of his 32 points in the final seven-plus minutes as the Boston Celtics held on for a 102-90 victory over the Nets, who were denied a pair of milestones.

Pierce began the fourth quarter on the bench with five fouls, but the Celtics did not appear to need their All-Star guard as they held a 78-63 lead. However, Boston's offense stalled, managing just one basket in the first 4½ minutes of the period.

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Rodney Rogers gave Boston a lift with 10 points off the bench.
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Pierce returned with 7:24 to play and immediately made a free throw to give Boston an 81-76 lead. He added a pair of free throws on consecutive trips to widen the bulge to 87-80 with 4:09 remaining.

"I don't know, it's something about playing New Jersey," said Pierce, who scored at least 30 points in all four games against the Nets this season. "Ever since I've been in the league, I've had great games against them. It's just something that's carried over the last two or three years. I really can't explain it."

A dunk and three-pointer by Keith Van Horn cut the deficit to 87-86 with 3:26 left before consecutive three-pointers by Antoine Walker and Pierce made it 93-86 with two minutes to go.

After the Nets closed to 95-90, Pierce provided the dagger with a three-pointer that beat the shot clock with 29 seconds remaining. He added four free throws in the closing seconds.

"I was all over him," Van Horn said. "Sometimes you just have to give the offense credit. I felt like I was glued to him. I couldn't believe he got the shot off. You have to give him credit. It was a great shot."

"Paul hit a ridiculously tough shot," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't."

The Nets (49-28) were trying to clinch their first Atlantic Division title with a team-record 50th win. Instead, they had their 13-game home winning streak snapped and will have to wait until at least Tuesday against Washington to reach the milestones.

"I really couldn't picture myself watching them celebrate winning the Eastern Conference against the Boston Celtics," Pierce said. "So we'll delay that one more game and they'll have to do that against somebody else."

"I don't think it was weighing in our minds," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "I can't say we're tired. We just didn't have that intensity and energy that we've been having at home. With a game of this magnitude, thinking of everything that was on the line, you would have thought we would have come out with that, but we didn't."

Nets forward Kenyon Martin was involved in another altercation in the second quarter that saw Celtics center Vitaly Potapenko ejected and Walker and Scott get into a heated argument. Martin received a technical foul but not a flagrant foul, which would have cost him another two games.

"He's a player and I respect him as a player," Scott said. "But Antoine Walker can never tell me to get off the court. He hasn't done anything in this league."

Walker scored 18 points for the Celtics (45-32), who trail the Nets by four games with five remaining and are more focused on holding onto the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

"It was a very physical game, probably typical of a playoff game," said Walker, who never has played in a postseason game. "We knew they had a run in them. In the fourth quarter, they worked it all the way down. But we stayed composed and we got the good opportunity baskets. This year, we've been a pretty good road team. We just want to continue to do that for these last five games and keep building momentum going into the playoffs."

Jason Kidd scored 21 points and Van Horn added 20 for the Nets, who shot less than 37 percent (29-of-79) from the field, committed 22 turnovers and trailed by as many as 19 points.

That was in the third quarter, when consecutive three-pointers by Eric Williams and Pierce made it 63-44 with 9:25 left. New Jersey got no closer than 10 points the rest of the period, even though Pierce sat with his fifth foul at the 3:16 mark.

A three-pointer by Erick Strickland closed the first quarter and gave the Celtics the lead for good at 28-25. Kidd's three-pointer had the Nets within 40-37 with 5:27 remaining in the second quarter before Walker and Pierce each made two free throws and Pierce made a jumper.

"For whatever reason, we came out really flat and we can't do that against Boston," Scott said. "They have too many shooters and they were much more aggressive than we were."

Potapenko was called for a loose-ball foul and took an elbow shove from Martin. He went after Martin but instead tangled with Nets center Jason Collins. He also shoved Kidd before Walker and Scott started jawing at each other.

"I felt he was going after K-Mart and myself," Collins said. "I tried to step in and get in the way. I could see him coming after K-Mart. He stepped in and took a shot at Kenyon and myself as I was getting in the way. I was worried about my teammate."

Strickland followed with a three-pointer and Walker's three-pointer gave Boston a 55-42 halftime lead.

Strickland scored 14 points and Rogers added 10 for the Celtics, who shot 42.5 percent (34-of-80) and made 11-of-24 3-pointers.

Kerry Kittles scored 16 points and Martin had 16, a career-high 13 rebounds but eight turnovers for the Nets, who held a 51-39 edge on the boards.