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Depleted Celtics win Atlantic

FANS who hoped to see Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were disappointed. Paul Pierce sent them home happy.

The only one of the four All-Stars healthy enough to play scored 36 points, including a three-pointer in overtime, on Wednesday night that helped carry the Boston Celtics to a 112-108 win over the Miami Heat and the Atlantic Division title.

A title that doesn't mean very much for a team that won its 17th National Basketball Association championship last year.

"It really doesn't mean anything to the Boston Celtics," Pierce said. "They don't put that banner up. Maybe in other arenas they put that banner up, but here it really doesn't mean a thing."

Wade was a huge part of Miami's 2005-2006 championship team and the Heat, at 36-31, are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, holding a one-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers with 13 remaining. He missed his first game of the season with a right hip flexor. The team did not say how much time he'd miss but did not rule him out of tomorrow's game at New Jersey.

Rookie Mario Chalmers handled Wade's role and helped the Heat make it to overtime.

"I just try to do things he would do, keep our team going" Chalmers said. "I tried my best to get everybody involved.

Chalmers had 19 points and nine assists and Michael Beasley came off the bench to score 21 points. But the Heat missed Wade and his NBA-best 29.9-point scoring average.

"It almost came down to that we had Paul and they didn't have Wade," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.

Elsewhere in the NBA, it was: Rockets 106, Pistons 101 (in double overtime); Trail Blazers 95, Pacers 85; Bobcats 104, Kings 88; Nets 115, Knicks 89; Nuggets 111, Grizzlies 109; Magic 106, Bucks 80; Bulls 103, Thunder 96; Hornets 94, Timberwolves 93; Suns 126, 76ers 116; and Clippers 123, Wizards 108.

In Boston, Pierce scored 12 points in the first quarter, hit 14-of-23 shots and nearly won it in regulation with a jumper that missed at the buzzer.

"It's unbelievable when he is hitting shots, crazy shots," Boston's Kendrick Perkins said. "He and (Rajon) Rondo carried us tonight."

Rondo had 27 points and 10 assists and Eddie House scored 16 points. House started the overtime scoring with a three-pointer that gave Boston a 103-100 lead, and Pierce followed with another for a 106-100 advantage.

"He was scoring on every one of our matchups," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said in awe.

Garnett missed his 13th straight game with a strained right knee and Allen missed his first after hyperextending his elbow on Tuesday night in a loss at Chicago.

Leon Powe, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine also are sidelined for the Celtics. "We know that we are injured," Pierce said after Boston's second win in six games, "but just to get back on the winning mindframe is big for us."

In Houston, Yao Ming scored 31 points and Ron Artest added 26 to lead Houston past undermanned Detroit.

Aaron Brooks scored seven of his 14 points in the extra periods, helping the Rockets stay in third place in the Western Conference standings.

Arron Afflalo scored 24 points, Rodney Stuckey added 21 points with 10 assists and Antonio McDyess grabbed 20 rebounds for the Pistons, who played without Richard Hamilton (groin), Allen Iverson (back) and Rasheed Wallace (calf strain).


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