Celtics win fierce contest with Magic, 117-116

Celtics win fierce contest with Magic, 117-116

BOSTON – There would be no 30-point thumping by the Boston Celtics of the Orlando Magic, as was the case in each of their previous two meetings this season. 

The only thing the Celtics truly wanted from this game, was a win. And that is essentially all Boston came away with as they somehow managed to squeak out a 117-116 win. 

Orlando’s Elfrid Payton drove into the lane with a couple ticks on the game clock, but his shot was off the mark and was rebounded by Al Horford as time expired. Boston (49-27) remains atop the Eastern Conference with the win.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 35 points while Jae Crowder chipped in with 18. Jaylen Brown, who was starting in place of Avery Bradley (stomach flu), had 12 points.

This was a tightly contested game, but one in which Orlando led most of the night. 

But the Celtics hung in there, making all the plays when it mattered most to get a much-needed, hard-earned victory. Trailing 86-83 in the third, Boston went on a 9-2 run capped off by a pair of Crowder free throws to lead 92-88 and wound up taking a 92-90 lead into the fourth quarter. 

Boston usually has Thomas start the fourth quarter on the bench and enter the game after a few minutes. But head coach Brad Stevens, sensing his team needed a bit of an offensive spark at the start of the fourth, began the fourth with Thomas in the game. 

It’s well-documented how well the Celtics have played with Thomas on the floor, and that would indeed be the case in the fourth as Thomas guided Boston to a 7-2 start which put them ahead 99-92. 

But the Magic responded with a 13-6 spurt capped off by a Jodie Meeks 3-pointer that tied the game at 105. 

Thomas soon put Boston back on top with a pair of free throws at the 7:02 mark to make it a 107-105 game in favor of the Celtics. 

Orlando regained the lead with a pair of free throws by Aaron Gordon who was having a career night for the Magic. Gordon finished with a team-high 32 points.

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

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Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 

In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”


Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

When is a setback not a setback?

When Danny Ainge says, "You know what? Sometimes I talk too much," Ainge told the Boston Herald over the weekend. "'Setback' wasn't the right word, so let me rephrase that because it's not exactly true to say it - or say it that way.

The Celtics president of basketball operations, in his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub and simulcast on NBC Sports Boston, used that word when he was describing how Gordon Hayward is coming along in his recovery. 

"He had like one setback for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and a half ago," Ainge said on the radio last week. "We were progressing a little bit too fast, we thought."

Ainge clarified that to the Herald's Steve Bulpett. 

"What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness," he said. "It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn't ready for it at that point. That's all it was."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been adamant that Hayward, recovering from his gruesome leg and ankle injury in the season opener, will not play for the Celtics this season. On Sunday, Stevens, via MassLive.com's Jay King, characterized Stevens' soreness as a "small" issue.