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Kevin Garnett scored a season-high 31 points to lead Boston to a bruising 90-78 victory over Detroit on Wednesday night as the Celtics became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth and also earned the homecourt tie-breaker over their closest competitor.
Boston won its sixth consecutive game and took a four-game lead over Detroit in the Eastern Conference standings. Should the Pistons catch the Celtics in the standings and meet them in the playoffs, Boston would have the home-court advantage by virtue of a 2-1 edge in the season series.
Kendrick Perkins had a career-high 20 rebounds to go with his 10 points for the Celtics.
Chauncey Billups scored 23 points, making 14-of-15 foul shots in the game, and Rasheed Wallace also scored 23 for Detroit.
The Pistons never led, falling behind 17-3 off the opening tip and working their way back to a 69-69 tie on Tayshaun Prince's putback for the first basket of the fourth quarter. But Garnett scored the next five points and, after Detroit cut it to 78-77, the Celtics scored 12 of the last 13 points.
It was an anticlimactic ending to a hard-fought game, with three technical fouls handed out along with hard fouls that sent players to the floor. Ray Allen drew the first T with a clearing elbow to Richard Hamilton's sternum in the first quarter; in the third, Jason Maxiell clobbered Rajon Rondo to the parquet after a breakaway layup.
Tony Allen's layup gave Boston a 78-74 lead with 6:01 left in the game, but he was called for a technical foul — apparently for celebrating — that cut a point off the lead and Hamilton calmly sank a 23-footer from the top of the key to make it a one-point game.
But Paul Pierce, who scored 15, hit a 3 to make it 81-77. Rondo drew a charging foul on Billups, and the Pistons guard was called for a technical that gave the Celtics an 82-77 lead.
After a Pistons miss, Rondo got the loose ball and threw it upcourt, where Pierce grabbed it and put it in for an 85-77 lead.
It was over.
The Celtics took a 23-13 lead after the first quarter, shooting 59 percent to 26 percent for the Pistons. But Wallace scored 14 in second quarter — Garnett had 12 — and the Pistons scored eight straight points to make it 25-23.
Juan Dixon had a chance to give Detroit the lead, but he missed a 3-pointer. The Celtics scored 11 consecutive points — 10 in a row from Garnett — to make it 38-25.
The Pistons finally pulled even early in the fourth after Billups and Prince scored the last seven points of the third, then Prince tied it with 10:50 left in the game.
This program aired on March 6, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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