Celtics hold off Heat, 112-108, for fourth straight victory

Celtics hold off Heat, 112-108, for fourth straight victory

BOSTON -- As the final 10 or so games for playoff-bound teams like the Boston Celtics were poked and prodded to see who would have the toughest go of things down the stretch, the Celtics were deemed to have the easiest go of things.

Somebody forgot to tell their foes because it seems every night the Celtics are in a down-to-the-wire battle that’s not decided until the final minute or so of play.

And Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat was no exception with the Celtics managing to outlast the Heat for a 112-108 win. 

A 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 102-101, which was soon followed by a pair of Isaiah Thomas free throws and a Thomas lay-up which made it a 106-101 game.

Miami's James Johnson scored four straight to make it a one-point game (106-105) with a minute to play. 

But Boston managed to maintain their lead for the remainder of the game as both teams exchanged free throws and defensive stops before the Heat simply ran out of time.

Boston (48-26) has now won four in a row and and 8 of its last 10. 

In addition, Sunday's victory matched the team's win total from a year ago, with eight games to play. 

And maybe most important, Boston has now set itself up to at a minimum have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a really strong shot at finishing with the top overall record in the East and, with it, home-court advantage throughout every round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Both teams swapped one defensive stop for another, a free throw here with a few made baskets sprinkled in for good measure.

And with 4:50 to play, the score was tied at 99 following an Isaiah Thomas lay-up.

Boston went on a 7-2 run capped off by a driving lay-up by Thomas that made it 106-101.

But the Heat responded with a James Johnson dunk followed by a pair of free throws by Johnson which made it a 106-105 game with 1:23 to play.

Boston countered with -- who else? -- Isaiah Thomas whose driving lay-up which was set up by a Marcus Smart offensive rebound, gave the Celtics a 108-105 lead with 60 seconds to play when Miami called a time-out.

Thomas led all scorers with 30 points while Horford once again flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 

This game being so close down the stretch wasn’t all that surprising when you consider it was a relatively close game most of the night.

Trailing 58-53 at the half, the Celtics knew that changes had to be made in order for them to regain control.

It didn’t take long to see that the Celtics’ plan of attack in the second half was to do just that … attack!

They were more aggressive offensively with their drives and ball movement.

Defensively, their close-outs were tighter, rotations more crisp.

Within minutes, the Celtics had the game tied up on an Amir Johnson basket and 3-pointer from Jae Crowder.

Boston began to get some separation behind a 9-2 run that gave them a 79-73 lead, and closed the quarter off by scoring six of the last eight points to lead 85-75 going into the fourth.

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

File Photo

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.