EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Nenad Krstic scored 18 points to pace a balanced attack, Richard Jefferson added 15, and the New Jersey Nets held on for a 95-93 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.

The win was the 17th in the last 20 games for the surging Nets (49-31), who have already clinched the Atlantic Division title and the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs. Their first-round opponent has yet to be determined.

Vince Carter added 13 points – 11 below his season average – and reserve guard Zoran Planinic also had a season-high 13. With nothing really at stake, Nets coach Lawrence Frank played his bench over the final six minutes.

The Celtics (32-48), playing without All-Star guard Paul Pierce, have lost four straight and five of six. They were paced by rookie Gerald Green, who had 19 points, and Kendrick Perkins, who added 16 points and nine rebounds.

Pierce had bursitis in his left elbow. Rookie Ryan Gomes had 15 points and Brian Scalabrine had a season-high 14 points off the bench against his former teammates.

Trailing most of the game, the Celtics drew within 94-93 with 6 seconds left on a driving layup by Green. Jacque Vaughn hit one free throw a second later and Orien Greene fell down with 2 seconds left, not allowing the Celtics the opportunity to even attempt a game-tying shot.

Despite a sluggish performance, the Nets took control midway through the first quarter, going on a 12-0 run to take a double-digit lead. Carter and Clifford Robinson each scored five points in the run, giving the Nets a 25-15 lead with 2:53 remaining in the period.

The Celtics fell behind by 14 in the second period, then played inspired ball over the final 6 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers in the final minutes of the first half. They pulled within three points before Krstic’s running jumper gave the Nets a 53-48 halftime lead.

Krstic had 12 and Jefferson had 10 in the first half to lead New Jersey.

Green, who was playing with the Florida Flame in the Developmental League last month, had 13 points at halftime. The 20-year-old Green has been receiving increased playing time of late and came into the game averaging 15.5 points per game over the last five contests.

The Nets built the lead back to 12 in the third and took a 74-70 advantage into the final period. The Celtics cut the lead to 76-74 with 10:58 left on two free throws by Green, but the Nets’ reserve backcourt of Planinic and Jacque Vaughn combined to score eight points in a four-minute stretch, pushing the lead back to 86-78.

Notes: Frank use the bench early and often, playing 10 players, with little-used Bostjan Nachbar getting eight minutes of action in the second quarter. Scott Padgett was the only Net to dress who didn’t see action in the first half. Carter needs 15 points to set a new Nets single-season scoring record. Bernard King had 1,909 points in 1977-78. The Nets have two regular-season games remaining at Philadelphia (Tuesday) and at home against the Knicks (Wednesday). … The Nets need one victory for only the second 50-win season in their NBA history. The team record is 52 wins set in 2001-02. They won 50-plus games three times during their nine-year ABA tenure.

AP-ES-04-16-06 2241EDT