The Celtics played Portland down two starters, with Avery Bradley still out and Jae Crowder missing the game due to personal reasons. And it looked like the shorthanded Celtics were going to stumble to a second straight loss. Portland got up by 17 early on and, in a repeat of last night in Sacramento, Boston couldn’t hit a shot or stop the opposing guards.
Then in the second quarter things flipped. Isaiah Thomas used some of his regular fourth quarter magic in the second period to turn the game around for Boston. Thomas scored 14 to close the half and to draw the Celtics within six at the break.
In the third quarter the Celtics continued their push by scrambling all over on defense and forcing turnovers. Boston also took care of the boards and got several good looks. By making a concerted effort to push pace, the Celtics were able to get layups and open looks. At one point, Boston went on a 23-4 run spanning halftime.
The fourth quarter turned into a back and forth game without much defense from either side for a large part of the period. Both sides were able to get in the paint with regularity to either finish at the rim or to kick to wide open shooters. The ultimate difference was the Celtics clamped down late in in the fourth, forcing some big turnovers from Portland, contesting all shots and taking charges. Marcus Smart took a huge charge from Damian Lillard with just over one minute remaining and the Celtics leading by six.
After a slow start on a night when his jumper wasn’t falling, Thomas started going to the basket instead. He finished with 34 points, including 10-11 from the free throw line. That effort led seven Celtics in double figures, as Smart, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk, Gerald Green and Terry Rozier scored between 11 and 18 points. Smart was particularly effective with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals.
Gerald Green also did this:
Rebounding was also a big key for the Celtics, as they held their own on the glass. They snagged 14 offensive rebounds, which led to several second chance points. With Boston up four late and trying to hold off the Blazers, Smart crashed the glass off a miss from Horford and finished to put the Celtics up six.
On the Portland side, Damian Lillard had a big night with 28 points. Al-Farouq Aminu was terrific off the Blazers bench with 26 points on 8-12 shooting. C.J. McCollum added 20, but the Blazers big men were mostly non-existent in the loss.
The win improved the Celtics to 34-19 on the season and gave them a 2.5 game lead on Washington and Toronto for the three seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics will look to keep things going in Utah on Saturday night.