Pierce answers the bell with a ringing peformance

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Pierce answers the bell with a ringing peformance

BOSTON Doc Rivers was a bit antsy all day, unsure if Paul Pierce was going to play against the Orlando Magic.

Pierce's left big toe has bothered him since he jammed it at New Jersey on Saturday, not to mention that knee to the thigh he took from Tyson Chandler in Tuesday's loss to New York.

Rivers was waiting to hear word from trainer Ed Lacerte as to whether Pierce had contacted him to say if he was going to play or not.

No word.

"Up until when we got here, we didn't know if Paul was going or not," Rivers said. "But we assumed he was because when he didn't respond that means, 'Why are you texting me? I'm fine.' Then he came in and he just played great basketball for us."

That's vintage Paul Pierce, leaving everyone guessing - coaches and opponents alike - as to what his next move will be until he's already done it.

His game certainly kept the Orlando Magic off balance on Wednesday as the C's clinched the Atlantic Division with a 102-98 win.

And it was Pierce leading the way with a game-high 29 points along with a career-high 14 assists.

"He has a good feeling on when to distribute and consolidate the ball," said Kevin Garnett. "And he has a good feel for when to be a lot more aggressive."

With Rajon Rondo (back) out, Pierce knew going into the game that his role would be expanded to include play-maker duties.

No problem.

"Tonight it was in my hands, I got to do a lot of playmaking," Pierce said. "At the end of the day I just wanted to be aggressive, look to score, but when they collapse I just wanted to make the easy pass."

Down the stretch, Pierce showed the ability to hurt the Magic both with his passing and shot-making prowess.

The Celtics ended the third quarter with a 10-0 run that included a much-needed jumper from Brandon Bass - Pierce on the assist - that put the Celtics ahead, 78-70.

And the game's final moments, his 16-foot jumper over former Celtic Glen Davis with 7.6 seconds to play would later prove to be the game-winning points. With 2.9 seconds to play, Pierce made a pair of free throws to ice the victory.

"That's called a good basketball player," Rivers said.

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.