With the playoffs sight, the Celtics have been taking care of business on the road when it matters most as they close in on a postseason berth. Friday night's victory in Cleveland marks Boston's sixth consecutive road win, putting the C's in a tie with Brooklyn for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
After the Celtics overcame a 38-point explosion from DeMar DeRozan and earned a nail-biting 117-116 victory in Toronto last Saturday night, the men in green had a few days off to prepare for Wednesday's meeting with Detroit.
Boston once again had a difficult time dealing with Detroit's interior combination of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe when they were on the court, as the big fellas combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds, but the Celtics made it a point to attack them even harder on the other end of the floor. The C's were relentless in their approach to penetrate the paint and put pressure on the defense, killing Detroit with high spread pick n' roll offense and connecting on 33 of 34 free throws. On top of that, the Celtics forced 19 turnovers - seven of which coming at the expense of former Boston College Eagle Reggie Jackson - and did an excellent job of capitalizing out in transition.
You can thank the second unit, particularly Isaiah Thomas, for coming in and taking control of this game. The bench brigade made an immediate impact on the momentum of the game, dominating their initial stint on the floor with 18 unanswered points to close the first quarter and open up a double-digit lead.
Lead by a scorching hot 34-point performance from Thomas, Brad Stevens' bench produced 73 points and 26 free throws to solidify a huge W at The Palace of Auburn Hills, boosting Boston's positioning in the playoff picture. Thomas was absolutely incredible, particularly in the second half, and got everything he wanted off the dribble. The little fella attacked the rack with a purpose, finished at the rim, went 10-11 from the free throw line and shot the lights out from beyond the arc to put the icing on the cake.
The Celtics need to accumulate as many wins as they can, but this one in particular was huge for momentum and meant a lot considering Indiana won on Wednesday night as well, while Brooklyn lost at home vs. Atlanta.
In the first of two meetings with the Cavaliers this weekend, Boston was cut a little bit of a break against the Eastern Conference powerhouse as Kyrie Irving's sore hip kept him out of action on Friday night. On top of that, Cavs head coach David Blatt decided to give his stars a rest by keeping both LeBron James and Kevin Love on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
Considering Cleveland was coming off of a dominant 37-point third quarter that made it a one-possession game heading into the final frame, we'll take it.
LeBron played just 26 minutes in this game, but the four-time MVP was engaged and aggressive making plays in that third quarter run. James wreaked havoc and was an absolute bull getting into the paint, not necessarily looking for a ton of his own offense but creating a lot of opportunities for his team as he dished six assists in the quarter.
It's safe to say the Celtics were alright with him taking a seat for the remainder of the night. Regardless, they moved the ball extremely well and executed down the stretch of the game, earning their sixth straight victory on the road and moving into a tie with Brooklyn for the seventh seed in the East.
Boston's backcourt was particularly effective at The Q on Friday night, as Marcus Smart found his shooting stroke to put up a big 19 points to complement an efficient 15 from Avery Bradley. The starting backcourt duo shot a combined 14-22 from the field while Evan Turner played an outstanding floor game, making a series of remarkable plays with the ball and accumulating a career high 13 assists. Isaiah Thomas didn't shoot the ball quite as well as he would have liked, but he stayed aggressive and got to the line for eight free throws on his way to a 17-point, five-assist performance off the bench.
CELTICS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
25.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 48% FG, 38% 3FG, 89% FT
Isaiah Thomas is finally healthy again, and he has been performing in vintage form as of late as the Celtics continue their pursuit of clinching a postseason berth. The little fella closed out last week beautifully with a big 25-point outing in Toronto to help the Celtics to a tough one-point win, and he followed up with one of the best games of his career on Wednesday night.
Thomas was in flat out combat mode in Detroit. He only stands 5'9" but he is never short of confidence, and he had even more of a bounce in his step than usual at The Palace. His herky-jerky style with the ball allowed him to get anywhere he wanted with the dribble, putting a ton of pressure on the opposition with his relentless approach to knifing his way through the paint. Thomas got to the line 11 times, finished at the rim, his outside jumper was money and he was outstanding in pick n' roll situations on his way to a loud 34-point showing.
His J wasn't quite connecting at the same clip on Friday night in Cleveland, but Thomas stayed aggressive and gave the Celtics a healthy boost off the bench with the way he consistently attacks north-south and gets to the line. Nobody else on the roster can make the same kind of impact; his value to this offense cannot be taken for granted.
LOOKING AHEAD: With three games left on the regular season schedule and just a half-game edge over ninth-seeded Indiana, who just got Paul George back in action, clinching a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs will be far from a cake walk. Not only do we have a tight race in the standings, all three games remaining on Boston's schedule will be played against playoff squads.
The Celtics will have their work cut out for them as they host the rematch versus Cleveland at the Garden this afternoon, before closing out their schedule with one last back-to-back set. Following a day off, Toronto will pay a visit looking for revenge after Boston's one-point win on April 4, before the Celtics cap off the regular season on the road in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Playoffs, baby! Let's go Celtics!