MIAMI – The Celtics probably should be thankful they are closing out the season against desperate teams – all of them with some degree of postseason hope.
The Heat, after nearly coming back Monday on the Celtics, pushed them hard again Wednesday night. But the Celtics, this time handling the Heat’s zone marginally better, put together one of their best stretch performances of late for Wednesday night’s 112-102 win.
They remain tied with Indiana, a winner Wednesday night in Detroit, for the Eastern Conference’s fourth playoff seed, with Friday’s game in Indianapolis looming large.
Gordon Hayward continued to round into playoff form, coming off the bench with a 25-point performance that included 12-for-13 shooting from the line. Kyrie Irving, Wednesday night’s early force, scored 23 points, including 4-for-5 3-point shooting, to go along with 21 points and 10 rebounds from Al Horford.
Hassan Whiteside closed out the third quarter with four points in the last 30 seconds, cutting the Celtics lead to 83-81.
Goran Dragic then opened the fourth with a pair of game-tying free throws, and the Celtics immediately hit back with a 6-0 run that started on Horford’s short jumper.
Improved defensive pressure caught the Heat in a cold stretch – they missed six straight shots with two turnovers during the Celtics run – but they caught up soon enough.
James Johnson’s banker with 7:41 left cut the C’s lead back to 91-89, triggering a timeout, and Jayson Tatum came out of it with a deep 3-pointer.
But the Celtics couldn’t help themselves. Irving muffed an attempted lob from Marcus Smart, and Dion Waiters cut the lead back to 96-94.
Tatum scored four points, though, including a transition layup off a Smart feed for a 100-94 C’s lead with 4:56 left.
The night’s oft-rampant sloppiness once again took over, with both sides struggling through a series of broken possessions, until Miami’s Whiteside broke through Celtics pressure for a transition drive and foul, though he missed the free throw.
Hayward hit a deep three, Whiteside fouled out, and Horford hit from the key for a 105-96 lead with 3:15 left. Irving hit the second of two free throws for a 10-point edge, before Waiters hit from the deep corner.
Hayward, though, drove the lane for a 108-99 lead with 2:14 left. Waiters hit from deep again, but Hayward drove for the foul, boosting the lead to 110-102 with his 10th free throw of the night.
After struggling against Miami’s zone for most of Monday night’s win in Boston, the Celtics figured it out a little better in the first half Wednesday night, taking a 53-49 lead after finding a decent amount of shots in the middle of the zone.
Hayward again was strong with a 10-point half that included two 3s and a 4-for-4 showing from the line, to go along with 12 from Irving, who also buried a pair of 3-pointers.
But starting with Kelly Olynyk’s 3-pointer 2:22 into the third, the lead changed hands six times, until Aron Baynes was goaltended by Bam Adebayo, and Horford followed up with a back-cut off a Tatum bounce pass.
Those two baskets triggered a 10-2 Celtics run that also included a deep Irving 3-pointer and a three-free-throw possession after Wade was whistled for a technical foul. The Celtics led 70-63, and all was reasonably well until, with 4:22 left in the quarter, Wade hit a deep sideline trey that cut the Celtics lead to 72-70.
Irving answered that with two free throws, but the Celtics milked that two-point margin for awhile, until Terry Rozier hit from downtown and Hayward went 1-for-2 from the line for a brief six-point lead. But Whiteside closed out the quarter with back-to-back paint scores, cutting the Celtics lead to 83-81.
The post Celtics hold off Heat, keep pace for homecourt advantage appeared first on Boston Herald.