BOSTON -- Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce did not have their best games against Memphis on Sunday. But the Boston Celtics still found a way to take a one-game lead over second-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference.
Walker scored 24 points and Pierce added 16 as the Celtics held off a late rally by the Grizzlies and posted an 85-80 victory.
Boston's potent duo has combined for at least 50 points in 14 of 25 games this season. But Walker and Pierce scored 44 while making just 14-of-38 shots from the field.
"Great 'W' for us," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "We hurt ourselves with 25 turnovers, but the way we've been playing when the game is on the line is something you really can't teach. It just has to come from the gut of the players, and they have consistently stepped up and just played."
Boston committed a season-high 25 turnovers. But three players reached double fingers in rebounds as the Celtics held a lopsided 61-37 advantage on the boards.
"Throughout the course of the season, every game ain't gonna be pretty," Walker said. "We had to definitely clean it up as far as taking care of the ball, especially going on the road. But we did what we wanted to do and that's play defense down the stretch."
Boston did a solid job against Pau Gasol. The rookie forward scored just nine points on 4-of-6 shooting for just his fifth game in single digits.
The Celtics managed to control most of the game and took a 66-56 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Grizzlies, coming off consecutive victories over New York and the Los Angeles Lakers, used a 13-0 run to surge ahead.
"This team just beat the Knicks and they beat the Lakers," Walker said. "They were very confident and throughout the game, no matter how much we got up, they never got rattled. And they came up with the necessary stops. We were very sloppy tonight."
A jumper by Walker gave Boston a 52-34 cushion 90 seconds into the second half. But rookie Shane Battier's basket trimmed the deficit to 64-59 with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
Grant Long's 16-foot jumper tied it at 66-66 with 10:11 to go in the fourth and Tony Massenburg's layup a minute later gave Memphis its first lead of night.
Boston missed its first five shots in the final period and did not score until Pierce's 3-pointer at 8:16. But the Grizzlies faltered down the stretch.
A 3-pointer by Memphis' Jason Williams broke a 77-77 tie with 1:47 left. The Grizzlies did not score again and the Celtics made eight free throws to seal their sixth straight home win.
"We've grown up as a team," Pierce said. "I don't really know what it is. It's something about the fourth quarter. We get big leads. We let teams back in the game. But our focus changes and our concentration in the offensive end steps up. That's why we're able to do what we do down the stretch."
"No matter what the score is, we're always in the game," Williams said. "We had a couple of turnovers that killed us in the fourth quarter. We were trying to be a little overaggressive, maybe trying to make tough shots. But we were still in the game, which is a good thing."
The play that cost Memphis its third straight win was Stromile Swift's foul on forward Eric Williams. Swift was battling for position down low when he was called for charging with 1:26 left.
"We make a hard cut, the guy just jumps in front, they call a charge," Grizzlies coach Sidney Lowe said. "There's nothing you can say about that. They felt it was a charge. They felt he ran them over. You've got to live with it. Me, personally, I didn't think it was the right call."
"That was a scouted play," Williams said. "Coach had that on tape for the last two days. It was just one of those things that I recognized it real early. The young fellow Swift, he gave it away with his eyes. He was going on Tony Battie."
Battier led Memphis with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. But he was 0-of-4 from the field in the fourth quarter.
The last time the Celtics were in first place this late in the season was 1990-91, when they were 40-14 on Feb. 14.
"I love it," Pierce said. "It feels good right now to be on top. This was a crucial three-game stretch at home before we go out West."