Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets clinched the NBA's last playoff berth with a shaky start and a strong finish -- the same way the team's season went.
Carter shook off an early injury and scored 24 of his 37 points in the second half to lead the Nets' comeback from a 19-point, second-quarter deficit in a 102-93 win over the Celtics last night in Boston.
"Vince has carried us since he's been here," New Jersey Coach Lawrence Frank said. "Vince, time after time after time, delivers."
New Jersey needed to make one final rally after the Celtics used an 8-0 run to close to 96-93 with 1 minute 16 seconds left. The Nets scored the final six points, all on free throws, then shook hands with Boston players and walked calmly off the court.
The Nets got the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and play at top-seeded Miami on Sunday. The Celtics already had clinched the No. 3 seed and open their first-round series at home Saturday night against Indiana.
New Jersey started the season with a 2-11 record but finished with a 15-4 surge. Still, the Nets went into the final day of the regular season competing with Cleveland for the last playoff spot. Had the Nets lost, they would have been eliminated because Cleveland won at Toronto.
Both teams finished 42-40, but the Nets had the tiebreaker edge by winning the season series over the Cavaliers.
76ERS 110, HAWKS 86: Allen Iverson scored 16 points and put the finishing touches on his fourth scoring title and the 76ers (43-39) finished in seventh-place in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia will visit Detroit on Saturday in Game 1 of their playoff series.
Tyronn Lue scored 20 points for the Hawks, who finished 13-69 for the worst record in the NBA.
Iverson averaged 30.7 points per game, scored the second-most points (2,302) in a season in 76ers history and joined Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and George Gervin as the only players with four scoring titles.
HEAT 98, MAGIC 93: With Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade watching from the bench, visiting Miami won its final tuneup before the playoffs. Top-seeded Miami will open the playoffs against New Jersey this weekend.
CAVALIERS 104, RAPTORS 95: LeBron James' triple-double wasn't enough to put visiting Cleveland into the playoffs. James had 27 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to victory, but New Jersey defeated Boston to capture the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
TIMBERWOLVES 95, SPURS 73: Ndudi Ebi had a career-high 18 points and eight rebounds and Michael Olowokandi had 10 points and 14 rebounds for host Minnesota.