BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas may be the player the Boston Celtics are touting as a potential all-NBA selection this season.
But when Wednesday’s game mattered most, it was Avery Bradley rising to the occasion in helping the Celtics hold on for a 104-97 victory over New Orleans.
Bradley had 13 points which included a 3-pointer with 32.7 seconds to play that gave Boston a 7-point lead which was its largest in the fourth quarter.
That was just one of big-time shots drained by Bradley in the fourth.
With the score tied at 93, he nailed a baseline jumper after getting the pass from Isaiah Thomas.
A Bradley steal afterwards led to a put-back basket for Crowder that gave Boston a 97-93 lead with 1:38 to play.
And then there was Thomas who made a pair of free throws with 1:23 to play which put Boston ahead 99-93 which proved to be too big a cushion for the Pelicans (29-49) to overcome.
New Orleans got a basket from Tim Frazier to make it a 99-95 game and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Amir Johnson came up with a huge blocked shot that seemed to be just what the Celtics needed in order to deflate the Pelicans’ hope of a comeback.
Thomas led all scorers with 32 points, the 10th time this season he tallied 30 or more points for Boston.
With the win, the Celtics (46-32) extend their winning streak to three in a row – all over Western Conference teams.
More important, it gets them one step closer to securing home court advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs.
Boston led by as many as 16 points, but found itself in a 76-all game just 28 seconds into the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer from Luke Babbitt.
Two minutes later, Babbitt struck again with a 3-pointer that tied the game at 79. He had 16 points off the Pelicans bench along with eight rebounds and four assists.
Brad Stevens had seen enough defensive letdowns/miscommunications and called a time-out with 9:46 to play.
As has been the case most of this season, Stevens began the fourth quarter with Thomas on the bench. Thomas usually returns to the floor about halfway through the fourth quarter and while the Celtics were indeed reeling, he resisted the temptation and instead decided to stick with his second unit players.
The good news is they rewarded Stevens’ faith with better play offensively.
The bad news?
They couldn’t get any stops defensively which kept it a one-possession game until
The Celtics opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run, but soon gave way to the all-too-predictable third quarter lulls that have plagued this team all season.
New Orleans was on a 17-4 run following a put-back dunk by James Ennis that brought the Pelicans within 65-62.
And from there, Thomas, the smallest guy on the floor came up with one of the game’s biggest shots, a 3-pointer that extended Boston’s lead to 68-62.
Thomas’ 3-pointer set into motion an 11-0 Celtics run capped off by a 3-pointer by Jonas Jerebko that made it a 76-62 game.
New Orleans, winners in three of its last five games prior to Wednesday night, bounced back with a spurt of its own that cut Boston’s lead down to 76-73 going into the fourth quarter.