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Celtics pull away in 3rd quarter to stay undefeated

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Boston Celtics won one for Doc Rivers and sent the New Jersey Nets a message in the process.

Hours after attending the funeral of his father in Illinois, Rivers saw the new-look Celtics remain the NBA's only undefeated team and personally show the Nets they are the team to beat in the Atlantic Division with an impressive 112-101 win on Saturday night.

"A long day for me. A tough day for me," said Rivers, clad in a dark suit and tie. "I was going to stay at home and my mom said 'Go to the game.' That's what my dad would want. It's still very emotional. I needed this probably more than anybody. I told them that after the game."

The victory was the fifth straight for Boston, which is off to its best start since winning six in a row to start the 1987-88 season. That was the last time the trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish got to the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston's new big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen put on another impressive performance against the Nets (4-2).

Pierce, who was scoreless in the first quarter, had 13 of his 28 in the third when Boston turned a seven-point halftime lead into a 21-point margin. Allen added 27 points and Garnett had 18 points and 14 rebounds.

Rivers had told the team on Friday that he did not know whether he would return after attending the funeral of Grady Alexander Rivers Sr., in Mayfield, Ill.

However, the coach walked into the locker room about 75 minutes before the game.

"It was a great boost of confidence," Pierce said. "It was a tough situation for him. He could have easily not come. It definitely brought my spirits up when I looked up and I saw him."

Garnett said having Rivers back gave the team a shot of energy.

"It was a great example," Garnett said. "Everybody perked up like little kids when their pops comes through the door. It was a cool moment."

While the Celtics have become a scoring machine with their new lineup, they also showed they could play defense, holding New Jersey without a field goal for more than eight minutes in the decisive third quarter.

"It's one game," said Richard Jefferson, who led the Nets for the sixth straight game with 28 points. "We're not going to play our best ball now. Right now, they are on a roll. They are not going to go undefeated. I will stand by that."

Vince Carter added 17 before leaving late in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle. Jason Kidd added 17 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

The Nets trailed by 23 points early in the fourth quarter and never got closer than eight points.

Eddie House added 13 points and Celtics rookie Glen Davis also made a major contribution with six points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes when the game was on the line.

New Jersey got off to a fast start, shooting 67 percent from the field in the first quarter.

Boston took the lead for good midway through the second quarter when Pierce converted a three-point play to ignite a 13-5 spurt. House, a former Nets player booed when he entered the game, added a 3-pointer in the run, Davis put in a rebound, Kendrick Perkins scored in the lane and Pierce capped the run nailing a wide-open 3-pointer for a 52-45 lead.

The third quarter was all Boston. Pierce hit a layup and scored seven points in a 13-3 spurt to start the period. New Jersey missed its first nine shots and didn't score a basket until Carter drove the lane for a layup with 3:39 left in the period.

A little more than two minutes later Carter was gone. The eight-time All Star drove the lane for a big slam dunk with 1:23 to play. His left foot came down but his right foot rolled after landing on Pierce's foot. He limped off.

Game notes
Nets C Nenad Krstic had the misfortune to have a rebound slip out of his hands and go into his own basket. Perkins got credit. ... Garnett got a technical for arguing a call. ... Boston outrebounded New Jersey 49-34. ... Boston F Brian Scalabrine was released from a Massachusetts hospital after being held overnight because of a concussion suffered late in Friday night's game.