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
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Tony Battie makes a strong move to the hoop against the Timberwolves.
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
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
"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
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
"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