Celtics do just enough, beat Orlando to keep pace
Have you heard all of that talk about how Cleveland has a switch? That the struggling Cavs are simply waiting for LeBron James to turn it on once the playoffs begin?
Well, the Celtics seem to think they have that capability, too. Last night that mentality nearly cost them against a lottery team in a 117-116 win over the Orlando Magic at the Garden.
The win keeps the Celtics a half game up on Cleveland, which beat Philadelphia last night, in the Eastern Conference standings.
Isaiah Thomas had 35 points and that was the final say over a similarly explosive effort by Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who finished with 32.
A Thomas steal set up a home run pass to Al Horford for a 111-111 tie with 3:42 left.
Jae Crowder’s scrambling save of a Gordon miss and outlet pass to Marcus Smart, who drew the foul, led to two free throws and a 113-111 lead for the Celtics with 2:40 left.
But Evan Fournier sandwiched shots around a Thomas layup — the latter a 3-pointer for a 116-115 Orlando lead with 1:50 left.
Horford was fouled in the post and, with 1:22 left, hit twice for a one-point lead.
It somehow held up with each team coming away empty on its last two possessions. This included, after an empty two-shot possession by the Celtics that Horford kept alive with an offensive board, a miss by Elfrid Payton under the cover of Amir Johnson’s outstretched arm.
The Celtics, thanks to four points from Kelly Olynyk and Thomas’ fourth 3-pointer took a 99-92 lead with 10:31 left.
But Jodie Meeks outscored the Celtics 8-3 by himself over a 1:04 stretch, cutting the Celts’ lead to 101-100.
Thomas answered with a drive but missed the attached free throw. This time Meeks missed, and Olynyk hit Jonas Jerebko on a back cut.
Meeks was next heard from with his third bomb of the quarter for a 105-105 tie at 7:22 left. Thomas broke the tie with two free throws, Payton tied it with a drive, and following an Olynyk miss Gordon took the lead back at 109-107 from the line with 6:04 left.
Thomas started the fourth quarter but was pulled for a breather with six minutes left. He checked back in at the 4:39 mark to a very different scene — a 111-107 Orlando lead.
Smart started the Celtics back with a pair of free throws. Though the Celtics guard put Horford on the spot with a bad pass into the post that forced the latter to throw the ball away, Thomas got the ball back, hitting Horford off the break for a 111-111 tie with 3:42 left.
As if getting hit in the face in the first half didn’t do the trick, the Celtics let it happen again to start the third. Terrence Ross scored off a 3-pointer, a three-point play, and then followed Jaylen Brown’s 15-footer with a runner for a 72-59 Orlando lead.
Horford finally kicked off a 10-2 Celtics run that concluded on back-to-back 3-pointers from Thomas — the second cutting the Magic lead to 74-69.
The Celtics then pitched into an 8-0 run, taking a 77-76 lead on a Crowder 3-pointer.
Orlando, with Gordon scoring its next eight points, took the lead twice, before Brown reverse tomahawked a dunk off a Horford feed. Crowder followed up off the break for an 83-81 lead.