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Front court steps up big in win over Heat, Celtics now tied with Cavs for No. 1 03.26.17 at 8:59 pm ET
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Mar 26, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) grabs a rebound on Miami Heat guard Rodney McGruder (17) grabs a rebound during the second half of the Boston Celtics 112-108 win over the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jae Crowder scored a season-high 25 points in Celtics win over the Heat (Winslow Townson/USA Today)

It’s not something you see on a consistent level but when the Celtics front court put together the kind of production we saw against the Heat — on both ends of the floor — Boston is very difficult to beat. 

Anchored by Jae Crowder, the Celtics front line was sensational against the Heat and made all the difference in the second half, where the C’s grabbed their first double-digit lead and eventually their 48th win of the season. After beating the Heat 112-108, the Celtics now hold the most wins in the Eastern Conference and are tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Crowder got it going early, knocking in mid-range jump shots and easy layups in transition. He also forced turnovers on the other end (two steals, two blocks) and his intensity was contagious. Crowder finished with 25 points on 8-of-13 attempts, including 3-of-5 from deep to go with his 6 rebounds.

With 3:53 left in the game, Crowder drained a 3-pointer to recapture the Celtics lead (102-101) and ignited the loudest roar of the night at TD Garden. From there, Thomas took care of the rest — scoring six of the following eight points for the Celtics (108-105) and before the Heat attempted to make a final push Boston’s defense made a crucial stop that led to a loose ball foul on Goran Dragic.

Marcus Smart split the pair but on the rebound of the second attempt, Heat center Hassan Whiteside appeared to have grabbed the ball early before letting it bounce off the rim. After officials’ review, Whiteside was whistled for goaltending and the Celtics were awarded two points and a two-possession game.  

Thomas scored a game-high 30 points but Crowder’s play, along with the rest of the starting front line, certainly stood out the most on Sunday. It complimented Thomas’ scoring and exemplified how tough the Celtics are when Crowder, Horford and Johnson are on point. 

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Devin Booker’s historic 70 points still not enough for Suns to top Celtics 03.24.17 at 11:51 pm ET
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(Josue Pavon/Weei.com)

Not even 70 points from Suns guard Devin Booker could bring his team close to grabbing a lead — Phoenix never had a chance at winning the game — but the incredible individual performance by Phoenix’s young star is one the Celtics franchise has never seen before.

From tip-off until the final buzzer, the Celtics dominated the lowly Suns while giving them little to no hope of closing their deficit and turned in what should have been their most lopsided victory of the season.

Boston still managed to hold onto a double-digit win — 130-120 — and improved to 47-26 on the season, still one game behind the Cavaliers for first place in the conference but Boston’s poor defense at the end of the fourth quarter propelled Booker to reach historic heights. 

Booker’s career-high 70 points marks the highest scoring performance in Suns franchise history and is the most any player has ever scored against the Celtics.

However, poor defense down the stretch led the Celtics to commit silly fouls as each player took turns in trying to slow down Booker but instead were biting on his up-fakes and sending him the free-throw line. One play that stood out happened when the Celtics led by 13 points (128-115) with 42 seconds left. Isaiah Thomas jumped all over Booker when he fell for yet another pump fake and sent him to the line so that he could inch closer to 70.

Although Booker was phenomenal, hitting 21-of-40 from the floor, 24-of-26 from the charity stripe, he couldn’t have reached this milestone without help from the Celtics. He topped off the C’s with 28 fourth-quarter points, 18 in the final four minutes, including 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

In the game’s opening seven minutes, the Celtics leaped out a 20-point lead (25-5) and spent most of the first half protecting it. Gerald Green caught fire from deep — knocking down 4-of-4 from behind the arc, including a four-point play as the Celtics took a 66-43 advantage into halftime. 

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Impressive win over Pacers proves Celtics have a shot at grabbing No. 1 seed in the east 03.22.17 at 10:10 pm ET
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Mar 22, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) in the second half at TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Pacers 109-100. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday’s win over the Pacers was a group effort as all nine Celtics players contributed to the 109-100 victory (David Butler II/USA Today)

Don’t look now but the Celtics are now in stride to top the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

With 10 games left in the regular season, the C’s are trailing the champs by one game and are showing no signs of slowing down. In Wednesday night’s 109-100 win over the Pacers, all nine Celtics players played a role in taking care of home court for the second straight night. 

Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 5 assists), Avery Bradley (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Al Horford (15 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) all turned in typical stat lines but guys like Jae Crowder (15 points, game-high plus-16), Kelly Olynyk (11 points, 8 rebounds, plus-12) and Tyler Zeller (6 points, plus-8) came up big in the second half. They helped push the Celtics to a whopping 39-point third quarter that pushed Boston’s lead to 17 — their largest of the night.

Paul George (37 points) and Jeff Teague combined for 42 points to lead the Pacers but the Celtics’ intensity in the second half disallowed their opponent to regain their first-quarter lead. 

For a complete recap of Wednesday’s win, click here.

The Celtics offense tightened up in the second half, efficiently taking care of possessions and flawlessly rotating the ball for easy layups and open shots. It seemed like every player did their part in either rebounding, finding an open guy or making a defensive stop. 

The team’s second unit made their presence felt in the first half. The Pacers’ back court duo of Monta Ellis and Aaron Brooks found their outside touch but so did Marcus Smart — who drained two back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter — and Jaylen Brown took advantage of his size over 6-foot-3 Ellis. 

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Celtics get tough with Wizards to strengthen grip on second seed in Eastern Conference 03.20.17 at 10:25 pm ET
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Mar 20, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) passes the ball past Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forced 18 Wizards turnovers (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

For a team that entered Monday night’s game as the fifth-worst rebounding team in the league, the Celtics rarely ever out-rebound their opponent. But when it came to facing the Wizards at home with playoff implications on the line, the C’s looked like a team that just simply wanted it more.

The Celtics not only out-rebounded their opponent, 54-39 but were very physical with the Wizards on defense and made it tough for them to find their offensive rhythm while the C’s cruised to 110-102 victory. For the first time in two years, the Celtics pulled down 20 offensive rebounds. The last time the C’s grabbed 20 or more boards in a winning effort was against the Bulls in the 2009 playoffs. 

With the win, the Celtics (45-26) now hold a 2.5 game advantage over the Wizards for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Sure, the return of Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 2 steals) certainly helped but it wasn’t just the Celtics leading scorer who made a huge impact for the Celtics. Avery Bradley had such an incredible first quarter that Brad Stevens kept him in for its entirety. He scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in the first 12 minutes and finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds and four assists. 

Bradley Beal’s 19 points led the Wizards, John Wall finished with 16 and 8 assists but did most of his damage from the free-throw line — where he netted 8-of-9. 

For a complete recap of Monday’s win, click here.

Up front, Al Horford set the tone by creating stops while also making an effort in boxing guys out in the paint and guys like Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk followed suit. Led by Horford’s 16 points, 9 rebounds, the three big men finished with a combined 23 rebounds and four blocks.

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Isaiah Thomas on facing the Wizards: ‘I can’t sit this one, I know what’s at stake’ 03.20.17 at 7:20 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas did everything he possibly could in order to be cleared to play on Monday. 

While the Celtics traveled on a mini two-game road trip, Thomas spent the weekend rehabbing his knee while also getting plenty of rest. 

“I was in here two times a day; in the morning and at night,” Thomas said. “I was in there just trying to get better, get as much treatment as I possibly can. Rest at the same time. Just trying to get it back as strong as I possibly can. 

Was it ever a question if you were going to play against the Wizards?

“It was a question for other people,” Thomas said with a smile. “I can’t sit this one. I know what’s at stake, I know it’s a big game for us. I did a lot of treatment to be able to play tonight, making sure I was in that training room and getting right.”

When asked, how badly do you want to head into the playoffs as a one or two seed? Thomas replied: “I want it as bad as you can get it.”

The Wizards enter Monday’s game 1.5 games behind the Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the east. Although Thomas believes it’s very important for the Celtics to take care of business at home, he also knows his team can’t get caught up in trying to change its game plan. 

“It’s a big game,” Thomas said. “We gotta just take care of business the way we know how, take care of home court and we can’t think of it as — just cause it’s against the Wizards we want to play a certain way — we just gotta play our brand of basketball and we’ll be alright.”

Al Horford drops 20 points in win over Timberwolves 03.15.17 at 10:55 pm ET
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Mar 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Al Horford (42) controls the ball during the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden.  The Boston Celtics won 117-104.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford took initiative on offense and finished 9-of-12 from the floor (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

For the first time since Jan. 25, Al Horford scored 20 points. 

Horford, who entered Wednesday night’s game averaging just under 14 points (13.9) a night, was not only his team’s second leading scorer but took some initiative on offense and turned in his best game as a member of the Celtics in a 117-104 win over the Timberwolves. 

Horford’s scoring has easily been the biggest knock about his game this year. It’s been five years since the Celtics’ four-year, $113 million man has averaged fewer than 15 points a night. But if Wednesday was an indication of what’s to come later on, the franchise’s biggest free-agent signing could pay off in the post season.

He finished 9-of-12 from the floor and was an immediate impact on offense from start to finish alongside Thomas as the C’s shot 54.4 percent and finished with 34 assists.

Isaiah Thomas (27) and Horford combined for 47 points. Horford, who flirted with a triple-double, led the Celtics in rebounding (9) and assists (8), Avery Bradley added 18 points and Marcus Smart (5 assists) and Kelly Olynyk each chipped in 10 points off the bench.

Ricky Rubio’s 23 points and 7 assists led the Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points, Shabazz Muhammad led the bench with 21 and Karl-Anthony Towns notched a double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds).

For a complete recap of Wednesday’s win, click here.

In a seesaw, neck-and-neck entertaining first half, the Timberwolves grabbed control of the tempo by grabbing the first double-digit lead of the night halfway through the second quarter (46-36). That’s when the Celtics’ leading scorer took control of the offense.

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Blowout win against Bulls proves why the Celtics’ defense makes all the difference 03.12.17 at 5:46 pm ET
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Mar 12, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) smiles from the bench during the second half of the Boston Celtics 100-80 win over the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas smiles from the bench during the second half of the Boston Celtics 100-80 win over the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bulls needed the second quarter to reach double figures in points, the third quarter to score at least 30 and a miracle to close their deficit. 

The Celtics not only held Chicago to nine first-quarter points in Sunday’s 100-80 blowout victory, they also played with the kind of defensive intensity that should put them in great position to grab the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and hold onto it.

The Celtics’ defense set the tone early as the Bulls finished the first quarter 3-of-22 from the floor. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder were very physical with Chicago’s best scorers — Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade — and kept them in check throughout the afternoon. Wade (8 points) and Butler (5 points) combined for just 13 points on 6-of-22 shots.

The Bulls never led once.

Isaiah Thomas finished with a game-high 22 points, Bradley added 17 points, 6 rebounds and three steals and Al Horford chipped in 12 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Six Celtics players scored in double figures. 

For a complete recap of Sunday’s win, click here. 

Boston’s commitment on the defensive end disallowed the Bulls to find their offensive rhythm and much like we’ve seen throughout the regular season — the Celtics’ defensive stops catapulted their offense. But it wasn’t just a few guys creating stops, it was a group effort. 

Al Horford and Amir Johnson each finished with two blocks and a number of stops, while the Celtics bench — led by Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown — combined for 5 steals. The Celtics finished the night with 14 steals and coerced the Bulls to commit 17 turnovers.

With 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Celtics (42-25) are in a tie with the Wizards for second place but due to their relatively light schedule, have a great opportunity to head into the playoffs with the second best record in the east. This week, the C’s will take on the Timberwolves, Nets and 76ers — three of 11 below .500 teams that are left on their remaining schedule. 

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