MINNEAPOLIS, April 15 (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce scored 31 points, including two free throws with 5.6 seconds left, as the Boston Celtics edged the Minnesota Timberwolves, 93-90.

After Vitaly Potapenko hit two free throws with 8:48 left to give the Celtics their biggest lead, 83-71, Minnesota stormed back and got within 91-90 on a pair of free throws by Wally Szczerbiak with 1:48 remaining.

But with the score still at 91-90 with 31 seconds left, Szczerbiak missed a pair of free throws. Rasho Nesterovic grabbed the rebound to give the Timberwolves another chance, but Kevin Garnett missed an open jumper after pump-faking Antoine Walker.

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Tony Battie makes a strong move to the hoop against the Timberwolves.
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Pierce then hit his free throws to give Boston a three-point lead, and Garnett front-rimmed an attempted game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key just before the buzzer.

"The last play was designed for KG, but on the weak side there were two guys who didn't set any screens," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "You're never going to win ballgames if you don't set screens. We just kind of ran by our guys without setting any screens."

Tony Battie had 14 points, including an alley-oop dunk to give the Celtics the lead for good at 55-54 with 6:06 to go. Walker added 13 points and eight rebounds for Boston, which will be the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"It got close a little bit," Battie said. "They missed a couple free throws and got an offensive rebound, and had another chance to go up. But we stayed solid with our defense, and fortunately they missed some shots down the stretch."

If the Celtics defeat Atlanta at home on Wednesday in their season finale and Central Division champion Detroit loses at New Jersey and at home to Milwaukee, Boston would get home-court advantage for a potential second-round playoff matchup.

"We did need this win," Pierce said. "It was good for us to get it. We can't worry about what they (Detroit) are doing, but mathematically we're still in it to be on top. We took care of our business, and we'll let the chips fall where they may."

Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Szczerbiak 19 points, and Nesterovic 12 and 10 for the Timberwolves, who shot 37 percent (33-of-89) and allowed the Celtics to shoot 51 percent (37-of-73).

"This is the kind of defense that we are going to see the rest of the way," said Chauncey Billups, who had just six points on 1-of-8 shooting. "We have one more game, and then it is all or nothing. We've got until this weekend to clean up all of the little things that we didn't do in tonight's game."

Minnesota, which missed an opportunity to tie its two-year-old franchise record of 50 wins, has already secured the fifth playoff position in the Western Conference.

"(Fifty wins) is very important," Szczerbiak said. "It will be nice to go into the playoffs on a roll. We wanted this one tonight. We weren't laying down. We went out there to play hard, just like Boston did, even though we were both locked into our playoff seeds."

The Celtics led 26-19 after one quarter before the Timberwolves came back and took a 41-40 lead at halftime.

Joe Smith hit a 19-foot jumper to give Minnesota its last lead, 54-53, with 7:21 to go, before Battie slammed home an alley-oop feed from Kenny Anderson to commence a 7-0 mini-run.

"We're just happy to be here," Battie said. "It's been a while. The majority of our team has never been to the playoffs, including myself. We just want to take advantage of the opportunity that's in front of us. We're capable of doing whatever we want to do if we put our minds to it and play like we did tonight."

Boston's victory was just its third in its last 11 games against Minnesota.

"We've played a number of games lately to help us for the playoffs," Boston coach Jim O'Brien said. "We beat New Jersey and the Lakers, and played in front of some hostile crowds. But there's no experience like playoff experience. If we can continue to play tough-minded 'D' and move the ball well, we'll be okay."