BOSTON (AP) – Rajon Rondo had 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and the Boston Celtics overcame an early 10-point deficit and a last-minute scare to beat the New Jersey Nets 106-104 on Wednesday night.

The Celtics, coming off four days of rest, assured themselves of a lead over the Orlando Magic in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The win also kept Cleveland from clinching the best record in the East – at least for another game.

Vince Carter had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who were eliminated from the playoff race when Detroit beat New York earlier Wednesday night.

Boston played its fifth straight game and 18th of 22 without forward Kevin Garnett, who is recovering from a strained right knee. Coach Doc Rivers said Garnett would travel with the team to Cleveland for Sunday’s game but would not play.

Boston led 106-99 with 1:11 left, seemingly coasting to the victory, before New Jersey scored the next five points – the last five of the game, it turned out. Carter hit a 3-pointer, then picked off a pass from Rondo and went the rest of the way before hanging in the air for a one-handed layup with 50 seconds left that made it 106-104.

Paul Pierce missed a 3-point attempt – he was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc and scored just 10 points – and the Nets brought it down with a chance to tie or win.

But Carter missed a step-back 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, and after the Nets tipped out the rebound Devin Harris tried a long 3. Ray Allen corralled the rebound and dribbled out the last few seconds.

New Jersey led 20-10 with 5 minutes left in the first quarter and 31-21 at the start of the second when the Boston scored 11 of the next 14 points. The Nets held a 45-44 lead late in the second quarter before Boston scored seven straight, including Ray Allen’s 3-pointer, and went on to take a 56-47 lead.

New Jersey tied it in the third quarter and again in the fourth but never led.

Notes: Rivers is eyeing a possible Monday return at practice for Garnett. … Boston F Brian Scalabrine was activated for the game, but did not play. … Boston is 12-1 when Rondo scored at least 20 points. … Ray Allen hit Tony Allen with an alley-oop for a reverse dunk with 1:57 left in the third to give Boston a 79-75 lead.

AP-ES-04-08-09 2207EDT

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