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Celtics win 3 in a row; Miami drops 4 straight

BOSTON (AP) -- The game was on the line and Paul Pierce was left
alone to shoot. That left Miami coach Stan Van Gundy angry at his
slumping team.

Pierce hit the 20-footer with nine seconds left, then the
Celtics made a strong defensive stand and plunged the Heat deeper
into their worst stretch of the season with a 101-99 win Friday
night.

"We weren't anywhere near Paul Pierce off the pick and roll on
the last," Van Gundy said. "That, to me, is unfathomable."

The player that hurt Miami the most and kept Boston close with
13 fourth-quarter points was 20-year-old rookie Al Jefferson,
drafted by the Celtics out of high school. He finished with 19
points -- much of that with strong play around the basket -- after
listening to coach Doc Rivers.

"Doc got over to me in the first half saying that I was chasing
the ball," Jefferson said. "He said (to) let the game come to me
and I felt like that's what I did."

The victory was the Celtics' third straight and fifth in six
games, putting them on the brink of clinching the Atlantic Division
title for the first time in 13 years. Another Boston win or a
Philadelphia loss will do that. Miami, perhaps weary after an
overtime loss in Philadelphia on Thursday night, has clinched the
top seed in the Eastern Conference but lost its fourth in a row.

"We just wanted to wear them down, keep running them, keep
beating them to the boards," said Ricky Davis, who came off the
bench to score all 16 of his points in the first half.

The Celtics won despite blowing a 17-point first-half lead,
overcoming a 34-point performance from Shaquille O'Neal in his
second game since missing three with a stomach ailment and viral
infection that left him unable to eat for several days.

"We fought our way out of the hole and then we were not making
plays down the stretch," O'Neal said. "The key is not to panic
because we know what the problem is. The problem is us."

With the score 98-93, Miami scored the next six points on
O'Neal's layup and two free throws and Eddie Jones' layup that made
it 99-98 with 18 seconds left.

The Celtics had hurt themselves on their previous three
possessions by forcing up shots just before the 24-second clock
expired. But this time they hurried downcourt, and Pierce, who led
them with 22 points, shook free of Jones and sank his jumper from
the right side.

"The last play is just absurd," Van Gundy said.

With one possession left, Jones inbounded the ball to Dwyane
Wade, who drove up the left side and put up a shot that was tipped
by Boston's Kendrick Perkins and went long. O'Neal tapped the ball
back up, but that shot also was too hard and bounced off the
backboard.

Pierce got the rebound and made one free throw with six-tenths
of a second left. Wade's 24-foot desperation shot missed badly at
the buzzer.

Pierce was pleased "to go against the best team in the East and
get a win."

Wade finished with 17 points after scoring just two in the first
half. One night earlier, he scored a career-high 48 -- a club record
for points in a road game -- in a 126-119 overtime loss at
Philadelphia.

"We need a sense of urgency," Wade said. "We need to get back
to the basics."

Udonis Haslem had 13 points and 15 rebounds for Miami. Boston
got 13 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists from Antoine Walker.

Sparked by Jefferson, Boston rallied from an 81-79 deficit after
the third quarter to a 96-89 lead on his two free throws with 5:32
remaining.

"Great, great game for him. Obviously their MVP tonight," Van
Gundy said.

Game notes
Boston broke a four-game losing streak to Miami. ... The
Heat's last victory was at home on April 5, 104-86 over Chicago.
... The lead changed hands 10 times in the third quarter.