Celtics

Celtics allow nightmarish late-game rally in 105-99 loss to 76ers

Celtics allow nightmarish late-game rally in 105-99 loss to 76ers

There were a number of stretches against Philadelphia that had to have felt like a bad dream for the Boston Celtics. 

And in the game’s closing moments, the Celtics found themselves squarely in what would be a nightmarish ending as the Sixers managed to squeak out a 105-99 win. Boston had several opportunities in the closing seconds to make it a one-possession game, but one 3-pointer after another rattled off the back, front and side of the rim as time expired. 

With the loss, Boston (44-26) had its three-game winning streak snapped along with its winning streak over Philadelphia which stood at 10 in a row. 

After leading by as many as 13 points, the Celtics found themselves clinging to a lead that would eventually escape their grasp which put them in catch-up mode through a good chunk of the fourth. But with 4:55 to play, Jae Crowder made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 91. Following Crowder’s free throws, Marcus Smart drew a charge against Robert Covington. 

The Celtics couldn’t take advantage of a good offense-good defense sequence, and soon found themselves back playing from behind following a 3-pointer by Robert Covington.

A lay-up by Amir Johnson made it a one-point game only for Philadelphia’s Dario Saric converting a lay-up in traffic. A lay-up by Smart was followed by a T.J. McConnell jumper that put the Celtics down by three with about two minutes to play. 

Saric scored on a drive to the basket that put the Sixers ahead 100-95 with less than a minute to play that would ultimately prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome. Saric, who finished with 23 points and five rebounds for Philadelphia (26-43), was indeed the difference-maker for the Sixers down the stretch.

But for most of the game, it was Al Horford who had the hot hand. The 6-foot-10 big man had 27 points – the most he has had as a Celtic – couldn’t duplicate the dominance he displayed through the first three quarters, down the stretch. He also had eight rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.

And as the Celtics offense struggled to make plays down the stretch, it served as a painful reminder of just how lost this team is in the closing moments of games without Isaiah Thomas. Not only is Thomas the team’s top scorer, but he also leads the NBA in fourth quarter scoring this season. 

While there were a number of Celtics who picked up some of the slack in Thomas’ absence, no one could deliver in the fourth the way Thomas has for most of this season. 

As for the Sixers, Saric was just one of several players whose play was instrumental in Philly getting the win. In addition to his big game, Covington had 16 points and eight rebounds whose play added to a nightmarish game for the Celtics who failed to gain ground on East-leading Cleveland with the loss.

Bucks approaching Game 5 as if they'll see Smart

Bucks approaching Game 5 as if they'll see Smart

BOSTON – When it comes to the playoffs, it’s always a good idea to have as many contingency plans as possible.

For the Milwaukee Bucks, that means making sure they are prepared to see Marcus Smart make his series debut tonight.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been given clearance to potentially play in tonight’s pivotal Game 5 matchup.

As much as Smart and the Celtics would love for him to be on the floor tonight, Brad Stevens cautions that his return tonight is not a given.

“He still has to go through some things later this morning after our shootaround, and then we’ll see how he feels after that,” Stevens told reporters. “If he feels good, then he’s been cleared physically to go. If he has any pain or anything comes up, then we’ll hold him out.”

Regardless of how those tests go, the Bucks are approaching Game 5 as if Smart will be on the floor at some point.

And while he hasn’t played in more than a month, the Bucks are well aware of how impactful a potential return by Smart can be.

Khris Middleton is one of the Bucks players who'll see plenty of Smart.

“He’s a competitor,” Middleton told NBC Sports Boston. “He goes hard. He’s a crafty player, a smart player. Great defensive player. So, you’ve just gotta be smart with him. He’s a guy that can make plays with the ball in his hands and knock down some big shots. Just gotta do a great job of trying to contain him if he plays tonight. We’ve just gotta be aware of him on the defensive side.”

Milwaukee interim coach Joe Prunty acknowledged Smart is indeed on the scouting report for tonight’s game.

“We know how he plays. We know how he plays within their system,” Prunty said. “He’ll definitely add an element for them. If he does play, we’re prepared for that.”

A potential Smart return comes at a time when the Celtics’ defense, which came into the postseason with a league-best defensive rating of 101.5, has actually been among the worst defenses in the playoffs.

Boston’s has had a defensive rating of 99.1 when Smart has played.

And while there’s no telling if Smart in the lineup will make that big a difference to the team’s defense against the Bucks, there’s no denying Smart playing tonight will provide a much-needed boost for Boston.

“He does a good job for them at both ends of the floor, by defending and on offense, moving the ball, facilitate a lot on the offensive end for them,” said Milwaukee’s Thon Maker. “With us, we have to find a way to match his energy if he does play tonight.”

Even though Smart hasn’t played in a competitive game in more than a month, the Bucks have every intention of going at him as though he had played in every game of this series.

“He’s still been working,” Middleton said. “You can’t disrespect him just because he hasn’t played in a while. You have to play him like he’s been playing all year long or this whole series, which is, get after him some too.”

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