paul pierce

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 win Wednesday night.

Boston (37-26) has a 3 1-2-game lead over New York (33-29). The Celtics have three games left and the Knicks, who beat the New Jersey Nets 104-95, 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 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 consecutive game because of a herniated disc.

– Reported by Howard Ulman of the Associated Press