In a matchup that was missing some of its star power, Paul Pierce scored 29 points, dished a career-high 14 assists and hit the big shot late to lead his Celtics past the Orlando Magic 102-98 in Boston Wednesday night.
Without teammates Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, Pierce led three Celtics in scoring 20+ points and set the tone early offensively for the C's, scoring seven points and providing eight assists in a 33-point Boston first quarter.
Joining Pierce in the 20 point club for Boston was Avery Bradley, famously filling in the starting lineup for Allen in recent games. Bradley, who has been known for his defense during his run in the starting lineup, shot 10-14 from the field for his 23 points, scoring most of his buckets early on (all but one of his points scored in the game's first 31 minutes, 17 in the first half) as the Celtics built an early double-digit lead.
Brandon Bass, traded by Orlando to Boston before the season, was 7-11 from the floor, scoring 21 points including a key putback in the last two minutes of the game that appeared to give Boston enough cushion for the victory.
The player the Magic received from the Celtics for Bass, Glen Davis, stepped up big offensively in the continued absence of Dwight Howard from the Orlando lineup. Davis was huge, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and seven in the fourth, shooting 12-16 overall and scoring a team-high 27 points.
Davis also had three steals -- the last of which, at the expense of Bradley way above the three-point line, led to a breakaway dunk for Davis and brought the Magic back to within two points with a little less than 32 seconds left in the game.
But it would be Pierce, whose 14 assists bested his career-high by a single dime (13 on two occasions, including 2003 against Orlando), that would take his patented elbow jump shot, going to his left, planting, and burying the bucket to go back up by four and then calmly make the last two free throws to seal the Boston win after Jameer Nelson (21 points, nine assists) had forced the issue with a quick two on Orlando's end.
The win propelled the Celtics to their fifth straight Atlantic Division title and a probable matchup against Atlanta while the Magic fell for the sixth time in ten games.
Debate the merits of "Hero Ball" all you want, but when the clock is winding down, Paul Pierce is just one of the best in the world at making that elbow jumper.
Meanwhile, Mike from Illinois at Orlando Pinstriped Post gets out the scalpel and dissects the loss for Orlando:
The Magic struggled defensively again without Howard defending the low post, as the Celtics shot 54.3% for the game, with Pierce, Bradley, and Bass combining to shoot 26 of 39. Poor free throw shooting also hurt the Magic, as they made just 11 of 20 free throws through three quarters before finishing up 20 of 30 for the game. Meanwhile, the Celtics were a solid 85.2% for the game from the charity stripe as they finished 23 of 27. The Magic also turned the ball over 16 times, which did not help their cause.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.