BOSTON – Paul Pierce had 29 points and a career-high 14 assists and the Boston Celtics clinched at least a tie for the Atlantic Division title as they held off a late charge by the Orlando Magic for a 102-98 victory Wednesday night.

Boston (37-26) has a 31/2-game lead over New York (33-29). The Celtics have three games left and the Knicks have four.

Division winners are guaranteed to be seeded no worse than fourth in the conference, and wouldn’t have to face Chicago or Miami in the first round.

The Magic cut a 91-78 lead to 91-90 on a layup by Jameer Nelson with 3:04 left. But they came no closer as Pierce and Ryan Anderson traded one free throw each. Pierce hit a short jumper in the lane, Brandon Bass caught Pierce’s shot that missed the rim and put in an easy layup, and Kevin Garnett made a free throw for a 98-92 lead with 1:31 remaining.

But Orlando, sixth in the Eastern Conference at 36-26, rallied on baskets by J.J. Redick and Glen Davis, making it 98-96 with 31 seconds to play.

Pierce then hit a 20-footer as the 24-second clock was about to expire. After a basket by Nelson, Pierce sealed the victory with two free throws.

The Celtics played without their starting backcourt. Point guard Rajon Rondo, who has at least 10 assists in each of his last 23 games, had a sore lower back after landing hard on it in Tuesday night’s 118-110 loss at New York. Ray Allen missed his sixth straight game with a right ankle injury.

Avery Bradley started for Rondo and finished with 23 points. Bass added 21.

Davis, starting in place of Dwight Howard, led Orlando with 27 points. Nelson had 19 points and nine assists. Howard missed his sixth straight game because of a herniated disc.

One night after scoring 43 points, Pierce tied a career high with his 13th assist with 4:37 still left in the third quarter. He got his 14th with 9.5 seconds left in the period, feeding Bass for a jumper from the left corner.

Trailing 67-59, Orlando scored the next nine points to take its first lead since 6-5. It stayed on top 70-69 before the Celtics finished the third quarter with a 10-0 run that gave them a 79-70 lead. Bass scored six points and Pierce had four in that comeback.

The Celtics led 33-22 after one quarter, starting the game with nine baskets on their first 11 shots. But the Magic cut that to 55-51 at halftime with the help of their 3-point baskets — three by Nelson and one by J.J. Redick.

76ERS 103, CAVALIERS 87: Jrue Holiday made five 3-pointers and scored 19 of his 24 points in the third quarter for Philadelphia at Cleveland.

Holiday made four of his 3s during a stunning 24-2 run when the Sixers blew open a tight game. Andre Iguodala added 19 points as Philadelphia snapped a three-game losing streak, won for just the third time in 10 games and stayed ahead of Milwaukee in the standings. The Sixers play their final four on the road, including a matchup against the Bucks next week.

BULLS 100, BOBCATS 68: Richard Hamilton scored 22 points in 24 minutes as Chicago won at Charlotte, N.C.

Hamilton made his first seven shots from the field, including four from beyond the arc, and the outcome was never in doubt.

WIZARDS 121, BUCKS 112: Jordan Crawford equaled a season high with 32 points, and John Wall had 14 points and 10 assists as Washington won at home.

Monta Ellis had 31 points for Milwaukee, which has lost 4 of 5, Brandon Jennings had 25 points, and Drew Gooden added 21 points and 12 rebounds.

HAWKS 116, PISTONS 84: Tracy McGrady led six players in double figures and Atlanta built a 37-point lead in the first half at home.

HEAT 96, RAPTORS 72: LeBron James scored 28 points before taking the fourth quarter off, Mike Miller added 13 points and Miami pulled away in the second half at home.

KNICKS 104, NETS 95: Carmelo Anthony scored 21 of his 33 points in the first quarter as New York won at Newark, N.J.

GRIZZLIES 103, HORNETS 91: Rudy Gay scored 26 points and Mike Conley added 20 as Memphis won at home and clinched a playoff berth for the second straight season.

MAVERICKS 117, ROCKETS 110: Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas rallied for a win at home.


Cavaliers rookie guard Kyrie Irving returned to the starting lineup after missing nine games with a shoulder injury. A Bobcats executive confirmed there was an altercation Sunday night in the locker room between Coach Paul Silas, 68, and forward Tyrus Thomas. Mavericks guard Delonte West was fined $25,000 by the NBA for jabbing his finger into the ear of Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward in the second quarter of Utah’s 123-121 triple-overtime victory Monday night. The Cavaliers recalled forward Luke Harangody from the D-League. Baron Davis missed the Knicks’ game at New Jersey because of a stomach virus and was replaced in the starting lineup by Mike Bibby. New Orleans signed center Darryl Watkins to a 10-day contract and waived a former LSU standout, Chris Johnson. Denver forward Wilson Chandler needs surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip and is done for the season.