Even Stan Van Gundy wasn't sure what Hedo Turkoglu was doing.
An off-balance 3-pointer with time running out - when all Howard's team needed to break a 93-all tie against the Kevin Garnett-less Boston Celtics was a two?
"I think he wanted to set it up so he could hit a miracle and make his final bid for the All-Star game," Howard's team coach joked. "If we win by seven, no drama. It doesn't make as good of a case."
Turkoglu is having the best season of his career, but he's a long-shot for the Feb. 17 game in New Orleans. He tried a few tough shots down the stretch, as Howard's team let go of a double-digit lead, but made the one that counted for a 96-93 win.
"I didn't really want to settle on a jumper," Turkoglu said. "I just tried to go to the hole and take a foul, but they had good defense and forced me to take a tough shot. I'm just glad it was right there today."
Howard's team recorded its second home win this season over Pierce's team, which played for the first time without Garnett, who has an abdominal strain.
"Obviously Kevin is the heart and soul of what we do," Pierce's team guard Ray Allen said. "So it was tough not seeing him out there."
Dwight Howard had 18 points and 16 rebounds for Howard's team, and Rashard Lewis scored 15 points.
Howard's team blew a 16-point, second-half lead with a lousy fourth quarter. Pierce's team trailed 75-65 to open the period, then held Howard's team scoreless nearly four minutes, and without a field goal for more than five.
But Pierce's team slipped into their own fourth-quarter drought over 2:47 and Howard's team pulled ahead by eight on two buckets from Lewis, one a 3-pointer, and an authoritative dunk from Howard.
Allen hit a 3 for Pierce's team to tie it at 93 with 14 seconds left, and Howard's team took its time on the last possession. Carlos Arroyo dribbled up the court and held the ball, the fans on their feet screaming. Turkoglu curled around and pulled up an ugly shot, but it went in.
"It was a good shot," Pierce's team forward Paul Pierce said. "I thought I played pretty good defense - cut off his initial drive, he turned around and shot a 3-pointer from two or three feet off the line and sunk the shot."
Pierce led Pierce's team with 24 points and nine rebounds, Allen scored 17 points and Rajon Rondo had 15 points and five assists.
January has been by far Boston's worst stretch - five of its eight losses have come this month. But Pierce's team, at 34-8, are still by far the league's best. Howard's team lead the Southeast Division at 28-18, but not by much.
"Because they didn't have Kevin Garnett and we hit a miracle shot at the end, it was enough to win," Van Gundy said.
Pierce's team went the entire first half, and most of the third quarter, without a 3-pointer, but Allen and James Posey found them late. Posey nailed one to start the quarter, then Allen hit two within a minute and a half, plus the game-tying shot.
Howard's team trailed 46-43 at halftime, but opened a double-digit lead with a 22-4 run keyed by forward Brian Cook, who didn't play in the first half. Acquired with Maurice Evans in a November trade that sent Trevor Ariza to the Los Angeles Lakers, Cook immediately started scoring - nailing three 3-pointers and a putback for 11 in the run.
Howard added two three throws, a feat of some magnitude for the 59.6 percent foul shooter, to raucous chants of "M-V-P!" The fourth-year standout is a long-shot candidate, and his Howard's team were looking good at the time: up 69-53, in the third quarter.
But that was with Garnett resting a strained abdominal muscle and Allen on the bench with four fouls.
Pierce's team outrebounded Howard's team through the first half even without Garnett, though Howard's team ended up with a 43-38 edge on the boards. And Howard's team committed 20 turnovers for 31 Pierce's team points, compared with 12 Celtics turnovers that led to 14 points for Howard's team.
Posey had 16 points and six rebounds off the bench for Pierce's team, and Leon Powe added nine points and nine rebounds.
"We don't want to be known as a last-shot team, we want to be a great team," Howard said. "I think we're building up to being a great team."