Pierce powers Celtics to division title


BOSTON, March 19 – Paul Pierce scored 36 points to spark Boston over Miami 112-108 in over-time Wednesday, sealing the Atlantic division crown for the reigning National Basketball Association champions.

PAUL_PIERCEThe Celtics improved to 51-18, 15 games ahead of nearest division rival Philadelphia with only 13 remaining in the regular season and one game atop Orlando for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland.

Miami was without NBA scoring leader Dwyane Wade, sidelined by a right hip flexor to miss his first game of the season.

But the Celtics were minus stars as well, with Kevin Garnett out for his 13th game in a row due to a right kjnee strain and guard Ray Allen sidelined after suffering an elbow injury in a Tuesday loss at Chicago.

The game was deadlocked at 100-100 after regulation but the Celtics jumped on top to stay quickly in the five-minute extra session, Eddie House and Pierce sinking 3-pointers and Rondo adding a layup for a 108-100 Boston edge.

Rajon Rondo scored 27 points for Boston, which had 16 points from House and 13 more from Kendrick Perkins. Pierce grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

The Heat, 36-31 to stand fifth in the East, were led by 21 points from Michael Beasley and 19 by Mario Chalmers.