EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Dennis Johnson's three-point play with 2:16 left defused a New Jersey rally and all five Boston starters scored 21 or more points as the Celtics beat the Nets 123-117 in an NBA game Tuesday night.

Johnson and Robert Parish had 22 points each and Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Danny Ainge added 21 apiece for the Celtics, who won for the eighth time in their last nine games.

Bird, who missed the previous three games with a strained back, hit only one of his first 10 shots.

New Jersey trailed by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, but rallied for 10 consecutive points to close the deficit to 110-106. After Johnson's three-point play, Ainge hit two free throws and Bird added a long jumper for a 117-106 Boston advantage with 1:54 to go.

McHale scored seven points and Parish six during a 19-7 third-quarter streak that lifted the Celtics from a 68-67 deficit to an 86-75 lead. McHale, who scored 20 or more points for the 33rd time in 34 games this season, started the spurt with a fallaway jumper that exchanged the lead for the 20th and final time in the game.

The Nets, who were led by Orlando Woolridge with 27 points and Tony Brown with 23, got within six points late in the third period before a 12-2 run gave the Celtics a 102-86 advantage. Boston built the margin to 16 points on two more occasions before New Jersey rallied.