East Rutherford, NJ (Sports Network) - Paul Pierce provided 31 points and five assists, and the Boston Celtics clinched an opportunity to defend their NBA title after defeating the New Jersey Nets, 115-111.
With the win, the Celtics joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first two teams to clinch playoff berths this season. At 48-14, Boston sits a game behind the Cavs, who boast a 48-12 record, for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Rajon Rondo added 20 points, five assists and five rebounds for Boston, which has won six of nine overall. Kendrick Perkins contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Ray Allen had 16 points in the win.
Eddie House scored 10 points for the Celtics, who shot 61.2 percent from the floor.
Vince Carter had a game-high 34 points for the Nets, who have lost seven of 10. Devin Harris had 25 points and 11 assists, while Jarvis Hayes poured in 16 points in the loss. Brook Lopez scored 10 points for New Jersey.
Mikki Moore's jumper made it a 13-point game to start the fourth, but the Nets clawed back, and Hayes' three-pointer with four minutes capped a 8-0 burst to pull the hosts to within 103-100.
With 2:26 left, Harris led a fast-break that resulted in a three-point play to tie the game at 105.
The game was tied at 111 with under 30 seconds left, and Pierce converted a baseline jumper with 20.9 seconds to go to put Boston in front.
Carter's layup attempt was off the mark on the ensuing possession, and Allen drained two free throws with 7.5 seconds to give the Celtics a 115-111 lead.
Boston hung on from there to clinch a playoff berth.
Pierce's 11 early points helped the Celtics take a 27-20 lead after the first quarter, and Boston held a 58-51 advantage at halftime.
New Jersey closed to within two, 64-62, early in the third, but an ensuing 9-0 run put Boston back ahead by nine. The Celtics maintained that lead throughout the quarter, taking a 92-81 edge to the fourth.