BOSTON (AP) — Eddie House and a late defensive surge saved the Boston Celtics from a humbling loss.
House scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, the New Jersey Nets made just five of 20 shots in the period and the Celtics came from behind Friday for a 96-87 victory against the worst team in the NBA.
For much of the game, there seemed to be a good chance the crowd was witnessing the fifth win of the season for the Nets, who led 73-72 after three quarters. But Boston coach Doc Rivers said there was no added pressure to avoid losing to a team on pace to set a league record for futility.
"We have to focus on what we do," he said. "If we don't do that, we will not win the game."
The Nets are 4-45 but have played better in their last six games, starting with a 16-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers. They were competitive in the next five, losing by 2, 4, 4, 9 and 9 points.
"Obviously, we want better than to stand toe-to-toe," said Devin Harris, who scored 17 points. "We want to come out on top."
House kept that from happening.
He came off the bench and missed all four of his shots in the first three quarters and his first attempt, from 3-point range, in the fourth. But then he sank four of five baskets, including a pair of 3-pointers, to give the Celtics an 84-77 lead. The closest the Nets came after that was 88-84 as they lost their 11th straight meeting with Boston.
"I was kind of rushing shots" in the first half, House said. "I try to make all of my shots, but when you get shots in the fourth, you really want to make them."
But the Celtics had to stop the Nets and they finally did after playing what Rasheed Wallace called "lackluster" defense much of the game.
"We didn't pick it up probably until about the six- or seven-minute mark in the fourth," he said. "But one saying my high school coach always told me, 'Winners find a way to win,' so we dug it out."
Boston moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 32-16 record, passing Orlando, which fell to 33-17 earlier Friday night with a loss to Washington. The Celtics wind up a three-game homestand Sunday against the Magic.
Ray Allen scored 26 points and Rajon Rondo added 17 as Boston won its third straight game.
Wallace said the Celtics didn't take the Nets lightly.
"It doesn't matter who's coming here, if it's the Lakers or if it's the Nets or whoever," he said. "We have to work on us and that's our main focal point, to go out there execute."
Brook Lopez scored 19 for New Jersey. The Nets are 1-25 on the road and dropped to 3-5 in games they led after three quarters.
"I think we played 33 or 34 minutes of really good basketball," Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. "Lots of energy, high energy. We worked extremely hard."
The Celtics' biggest lead of the first half was 37-30 with 9:29 left in the second quarter. Then the Nets went on a 25-12 spurt and built their biggest margin, 55-49, just 8.7 seconds before intermission.
New Jersey, last in the NBA with a 42.2 field goal percentage, hit 63.3 percent (19 for 30) of its shots to take a 55-51 halftime lead. But the Nets went 11 for 38 from the field in the second half.
"It's a learning process," Harris said. "We've got to take some bangs on the head to get to where we want to be."
Both teams started slowly in the fourth quarter as New Jersey missed its first four shots and Boston went 0 for 2 with a turnover on its first three possessions.
House finally connected on a 16-footer to put Boston ahead 74-73 with 9:53 to go before Yi Jianlian gave New Jersey its last lead on a jumper with 9:27 remaining.
Then House made a 3-pointer and Bill Walker sank two free throws, making it 79-75. Yi hit a jumper but House followed with a 3-pointer and a shot from the left corner. Those put Boston ahead 84-77.
The Nets closed to 88-84 on Courtney Lee's 3-pointer, but a layup by Kendrick Perkins and a 3-pointer by Allen secured the victory for the Celtics.
NOTES: Celtics scoring leader Paul Pierce missed his second straight game with a strained left foot. He may return Sunday. ... Boston had 26 assists to 15 for New Jersey, which is second worst in the NBA in that category.